Freed SA hostage thanks Gift of Givers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

THE call from Mil­park Hospi­tal in Jo­han­nes­burg came in just after 6.30pm last night. Stephen McGown told Gift of the Givers founder Im­tiaz Sooli­man he could not wait any longer to thank him for sav­ing his life. McGown was freed last week­end, after be­ing held hostage by the North African divi­sion of al-Qaeda in Mali for six years.

“He said a pro­found thank you. He told me he had stud­ied all the web­sites and got all the in­for­ma­tion about how the ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­gressed. He said that if we had not got in­volved he would never have been able to come back home. It was lovely talk­ing to him,” said Sooli­man.

McGown and Sooli­man had been due to meet in per­son for the first time at a me­dia brief­ing at the NGO’s Bram­ley of­fices, but McGown’s doc­tors red-flagged an in­fec­tion.

“He is will be in hospi­tal for a few days, he’s ex­pected to be re­leased by next week,” said Sooli­man.

Hostage ne­go­tia­tor Mo­hamed Ye­hia Dicko, who trav­elled to Mali nine times to bro­ker McGown’s re­lease, said he too looked for­ward to meet­ing the freed hostage.

In May, the NGO said ne­go­tia- tions had suc­ceeded in re­duc­ing the ran­som re­quest from 20 mil­lion to 8.5m and a plea had been made to the king of Qatar in a last re­sort at­tempt. “The king has been suc­cess­ful in ne­go­ti­at­ing the re­lease of many hostages at the be­hest of di­verse gov­ern­ments," said Sooli­man.

While the SA gov­ern­ment de­nies pay­ing a ran­som, as has Gift of the Givers, Ruk­mini Cal­li­machi, an eNCA New York Times cor­re­spon­dent, said: "It's an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. They can’t ad­mit they pay ran­soms, oth­er­wise its open sea­son on all South Africans.”

Cal­li­machi said the ran­som money goes from the SA Trea­sury to an in­ter­me­di­ary, some­times even a sec­ond or third and then to the hostage-tak­ers. This is done to en­sure the links become un­trace­able so the gov­ern­ment can­not be im­pli­cated in any way.

Stephen McGown

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