Tomorrow, 25 November 2015, is exactly four years since South African, Stephen McGown, and Swede, Johan Gustafsson, were taken hostage in Mali by Al Qaeda. Gift of the Givers, at the request of both families, got actively involved in June this year to try to make contact with the captors and find a way forward. A negotiator of Mali origin, Mohamed Yehia Dicko, was sent to Bamako on 10 July 2015. This was the beginning of a lengthy and arduous process to try and "find" the captors. Simultaneously, two videos were circulated internationally with the hope that the captors will find us.
Yehia's journey took him to North Mali, to Gao, Kidal, to Niamey and Agadez in Niger, traveling thousands of kilometers by road to try and find a "connection". Verbal contact was made with people in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, all in an attempt to find "someone". Religious teachers, tribal leaders, government officials, media experts and many people were met or contacted. The first breakthrough came at the end of July with the possibility that we found "someone" who could point us in the right direction. In hindsight it was probably our most valuable pointer. At the beginning of September a second journey was undertaken and the "someone" gave valuable advice and a very valuable "connection". This "someone" reiterated that our biggest challenge is finding the right individual or group that will take up our "case" and present it to the captors. This "connection" he pointed us to was the door, according to him. He was proved right. The "connection" he pointed us to said he will forward the request and see what response he gets. Every week we were told we will have an "answer" next week. That process continued for 11 weeks. Sometimes we would get a call from that "connection" and sometimes silence for three weeks. This was a test of patience for us and a time of great difficulty for both families who were clutching at anything in the hope that something positive happens.
Finally, on Friday, 20 November 2015, we got a one minute call around 10am to say we will get a call that evening with "good news". That call only came at 4am on Saturday, 21 November, to say that the captors have sent a video "specially for us, that it was not given to anyone else and that it will be put directly in our hand". It went on to say that both the captors are healthy and in good condition and are waiting for us". There was no mention of any demands and no details of what was on the video. On Sunday, 22 November, we got a call again and the person said we need to collect the video and that it will be available soon. We asked did he see the video, he replied in the negative but said he will try to watch it. On Monday, 23 November, we got a call at 12 noon to say that "the video is good and is waiting for us".
We are making arrangements to fetch the video and wait for instructions how and where to obtain it but we were told that we may have it by Friday, 27 November. We asked isn't it possible to get it tomorrow, 25 November, and asked the person if anyone knew that 25 November is the fourth anniversary of the abduction. The person said he was not aware of that.
Both families are overwhelmed with joy; for 3 years and 8 months they had absolutely no information. With our involvement we made contact with the captors in under 4 months. Our analysis is the following: "someone" agreed to take up our "case", the captors have accepted Gift of the Givers as negotiators on behalf of both hostages, a special video has been prepared for us and they are ready for "dialogue". We now need to get possession of the video and view the contents, then wait for "demands" or instructions on the way forward or any other relevant messages. Depending on the content of the video and us successfully acquiring it we may consider releasing it publicly.
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Gift of the Givers successfully negotiated the release of South African, Yolande Korkie, from Al Qaeda in Yemen, on 10 January 2014, ransom free. The release of the husband Pierre Korkie was also secured for 6 December 2014. Unfortunately, Pierre and American, Luke Somers, died the same morning in a failed rescue attempt by the American military. Gift of the Givers was involved in a hostage situation of two South Africans in Somalia in 2011 and was also contacted by the Taiwanese Government in the same year to secure the release of several Taiwanese seamen.