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t is a sce­nario with which South Africans are be­com­ing all too fa­mil­iar: coun­try­men taken hostage while on hol­i­day or work­ing in trou­ble hot spots.

The latest night­mare took place this week­end when three South Africans were taken hostage af­ter gun­men stormed the Ho­tel By­b­los in Se­vare, north­ern Mali, at about 7am on Fri­day.

Two South Africans work­ing as con­trac­tors for the UN, one Rus­sian and one Ukrainian, walked out alive from the ho­tel yesterday af­ter a predawn raid by mem­bers of the Malian paramil­i­tary.

But Roelof ( Jaco) Janse van Rens­burg – who was part of the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion Mi­nusma – died in the siege, his fam­ily con­firmed to Eye­wit­ness News yesterday af­ter­noon.

Van Rens­burg’s brother-in-law Cobus Smal told Eye­wit­ness News the fa­ther of four had sent his wife in Gaut­eng What­sApp mes­sages from his ho­tel room and had even spo­ken to her on the phone. But his bat­tery died and they lost com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Smal said Van Rens­burg told his wife he was scared and could hear the gun­fire from his ho­tel room where he was hid­ing. It is not known when he was killed.

Im­tiaz Sooli­man, head of hu­man­i­tar­ian agency Gift of the Givers, told Eye­wit­ness News the two South Africans who had sur­vived the siege were among a group of four UN con­trac­tors.

The BBC re­ported that at least 12 peo­ple had been killed in the siege, in­clud­ing five Malian sol­diers and three gun­men. Seven ter­ror­ists were ar­rested.

Mi­nusma said the gun­men’s ini­tial tar­get had been a Malian mil­i­tary site. “The at­tack­ers, who were re­pulsed by the Malian forces, then holed up in a ho­tel,” the mis­sion said in a state­ment.

The news that at least two of the three hostages had es­caped alive was bit­ter­sweet for South Africans, who still re­mem­ber the death of Pierre Korkie (56).

Korkie, a Bloem­fontein teacher who had been teach­ing chil­dren in Ye­men, was taken hostage by al-Qaeda with his wife, Yolande, in May 2013.

Yolande Korkie was freed in Jan­uary last year, but Pierre was killed when US Spe­cial Forces com­man­dos stormed the hide­out where he was be­ing held in an at­tempt to res­cue US pho­to­jour­nal­ist Luke Somers in De­cem­ber last year.

Korkie – who was killed by his cap­tors – was due to have been re­leased the next day.

Mean­while, the fam­ily of another South African hostage, Stephen McGowan of Johannesburg, are still anx­iously wait­ing for news about him.

McGowan (39) was kid­napped by al-Qaeda mil­i­tants from a ho­tel res­tau­rant in Tim­buktu, Mali, on Novem­ber 25 2011, the day he ar­rived in the coun­try. A Ger­man tourist was shot when he re­sisted.

McGowan and two friends, Swedish na­tional Jo­han Gustafs­son and Dutch­man Sjaak Ri­jke, had been on a mo­tor­cy­cle tour through Europe and Africa, and were head­ing to South Africa.

Ri­jke was res­cued by French forces in April. McGowan and Gustafs­son were not with him when the French forces at­tacked.

In a video re­leased by a Mau­ri­ta­nian news agency in June, a bearded McGowan and Gustafs­son can be seen in tra­di­tional Mus­lim robes sit­ting un­der a tree while be­ing watched over by three masked men dressed in black.

McGowan de­liv­ered a mes­sage to South Africa: “I hope that some­thing can be done. I hope that a ne­go­ti­a­tion can be bro­kered and my re­lease can be soon. I have a mes­sage for my fam­ily, I thank you all for ev­ery­thing that you’ve been do­ing to help.”

The video reignited at­tempts by the Gift of the Givers to try to se­cure the re­lease of the men.

The agency sent a ne­go­tia­tor to Mali last month in an at­tempt to make con­tact with their kid­nap­pers.

Sooli­man told South African media or­gan­i­sa­tions three weeks ago that the re­lease of the video had per­suaded him that the cap­tors were po­ten­tially look­ing for some­one with whom to ne­go­ti­ate and he launched an ini­tia­tive to se­cure McGowan’s re­lease.

McGowan’s fa­ther, Mal­colm, ap­proached Sooli­man last year af­ter he had ne­go­ti­ated Yolande Korkie’s re­lease.

Sooli­man said his Malian ne­go­tia­tor, Ye­hia Dicko, had flown to Mali on July 9. He had met “in­flu­en­tial peo­ple” in Ba­mako and then trav­elled to Gao in north­ern Mali, where he had met “strate­gic peo­ple” be­fore re­turn­ing to South Africa this month.

Gift of the Givers also cir­cu­lated two videos in west and north Africa ap­peal­ing to the cap­tors to make con­tact with Ye­hia.

Sooli­man said the videos had been cir­cu­lated in such a wide area be­cause he be­lieved the mem­bers of the group hold­ing the two men come from Al­ge­ria, Morocco, Tu­nisia, Libya, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia and other parts of west Africa.

Sooli­man told eNCA they were also try­ing to se­cure Gustafs­son’s re­lease be­cause “we’re a hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion and to us it doesn’t mat­ter where an in­di­vid­ual is from.

“We haven’t dealt with non-South Africans be­fore ... and it oc­curred to me that there were seven peo­ple in this group; five are out. If Stephen gets out, only one man will be left. And no one seems to be talk­ing about him. I felt sad to be leav­ing a man be­hind.”

Stephen McGowan

Pierre Korkie

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