Hope af­ter Stephen’s re­turn

Shi­raaz could be next

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO khaya.koko@inl.co.za @khayakoko88

STEPHEN McGowan’s “mirac­u­lous” re­turn yes­ter­day pro­vided re­newed hope for the safe home­com­ing of pho­to­jour­nal­ist Shi­raaz Mo­hamed, ab­ducted near the Turk­ish bor­der early this year.

McGowan’s re­turn was se­cured through a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort that in­cluded the NGO, Gift of the Givers, and the gov­ern­ments of South Africa and Mali, where McGowan had been held cap­tive since Novem­ber 2011.

Mo­hamed was ab­ducted in Jan­uary by a group of armed men. He had trav­elled to Syria on as­sign­ment with Gift of the Givers.

Speak­ing to The Star yes­ter­day, Depart­ment of State Se­cu­rity spokesper­son Brian Dube said al­though the cir­cum­stances of Mo­hamed’s cap­ture was dif­fer­ent from McGowan, the gov­ern­ment was still work­ing tire­lessly to try to se­cure the photo-jour­nal­ist’s safe re­turn.

“The gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion has al­ways been the same… that who­ever goes miss­ing or gets kid­napped out­side the coun­try, it will al­ways play a role to try to get them back,” Dube said.

“I can con­firm that we are seized with this mat­ter in try­ing to as­sist. We are work­ing as a team led by Dirco (Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co-op­er­a­tion), be­cause this is an in­ter­na­tional mat­ter.

“And, of course, State Se­cu­rity will also play its role in try­ing to bring back Mr Mo­hamed. It’s a team ef­fort,” he added.

Dube could not, how­ever, pro­vide de­tails on the progress of at­tempts to bring Mo­hamed back home.

And it was an emo­tional brief­ing in Pretoria yes­ter­day, when McGowan’s fam­ily sat along­side cab­i­net min­is­ters to an­nounce the joy­ous news of their loved one’s re­turn af­ter years of cap­tiv­ity by al-Qaeda’s Mali branch.

This brought an end to a trau­matic five years and eight months for the fam­ily since the cap­ture of their son, dur­ing which McGowan’s mother Bev­erly died in May af­ter a long ill­ness and with­out see­ing her son’s re­turn.

McGowan’s fa­ther, Mal­colm, said it was a “mir­a­cle” for the fam­ily to have him back, but de­tailed the dif­fi­cul­ties they suf­fered in Stephen’s ab­sence.

“Un­less you have ac­tu­ally trav­elled the road, you re­ally don’t know what it’s like. We tried to keep my wife go­ing by con­tin­u­ally say­ing ‘he’s coming home; he’s coming home’,” he said.

“But, it didn’t quite work out the way we (had) wanted. So, we have had to sim­ply say to Stephen: ‘You know, a lot of wa­ter has passed un­der the bridge. But you are strong. You have to get up and carry on with your life and make the best of it’.”

Mal­colm said he be­lieved his son would “pick him­self up in a while, and join the nor­mal run of life”.

McGowan’s wife, Cather­ine, said how oner­ous it had been to re­main hope­ful that he was alive and that she would see him again one day.

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