Freed SA hostage thanks Gift of Givers
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.