Hope after Stephen’s return
Shiraaz could be next
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.