2000 Days in CaptivityToday marks 2000 days in captivity for South African, Stephen McGown, and Swede, Johan Gustafsson, captured by AQIM in Timbuktu, Mali, on 25 November 2011. How can one appreciate the anguish of two families torn apart by such an enduring challenge: a dying mother hoping to see her son before her last breath, a young wife awaiting union with her husband with hope in her heart, sisters yearning for brotherly love- no human can understand this except those who are victims of a similar anguish. We as outsiders are observers to the pain but even we cannot understand the internal suffering of these family members who put up a brave smile for those around.
Gift of the Givers was appointed by the families on 23 June 2015 to try and secure the release of both hostages. We sent in a negotiator of Mali origin into various regions of Mali and Niger to "connect" with people who can show us the way. Mohamed Yehia Dicko, the negotiator, "went in" eight times, collectively spending more than 100 days and travelling several thousand kilometers in the deepest rural regions to achieve a breakthrough. He "found" two intermediaries who had a history of negotiating with AQIM. They agreed to put forward our case. We tried every effort to secure an unconditional release by enlisting the goodwill of tribal and religious leaders, winning over the rural populations through the humanitarian services we provided and even succeeding in convincing the intermediaries to put in a "good" word for us. All we achieved was reducing the ransom request from 20 million euros to 8.5 million euros, a figure that neither family can afford to pay. The South African and Swedish Government don't negotiate with terrorists nor do they pay ransom, as is the practice with most governments. That is very understandable. However, affected families are not prevented from taking any measure to reunite with their loved ones.
We have reached a dead end. The two families are now making an impassioned appeal to the King of Qatar for his intervention. The King has been successful in negotiating the release of many a hostage at the behest of diverse governments. The McGown and Gustafsson families are hoping that a similar intervention on their behalf, on compassionate grounds would be entertained; to wait 2000 days with no solution in sight is devastating to say the least. In the event we are not successful in this endeavour and the captors still refuse an unconditional release then the stark and unfortunate reality is that these two innocent family members are never coming home. We call upon any government, organization, individual or person with influence to assist us secure the release of Johan and Stephen in whatever capacity whether it means talking to AQIM, the King of Qatar or whatever. It's painful to witness the desperation and prolonged suffering of these two families. We make an earnest request to the King of Qatar to give these two families an audience and determine whether he can assist in this case. Our plea to anyone listening or reading, "please help if you can" and to the rest of society we request your fervent prayer for the successful outcome of a most arduous, uncertain, heartbreaking and grueling journey.
# We have also not made progress in finding South African photojournalist, Shiraaz Mahomed, captured in Syria 127 days ago. Till now no group has come forward nor are there any demands. The search continues.
Imtiaz Sooliman +27 832364029
Malcolm McGown + 27 824509411
Catherine McGown + 27 765586032
Victoria Gustafsson + 46 705584841