Minister Nkoana-Mashabane meets the AU Chairperson Commission, His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat, at the AU headquarters on the sidelines of the 29th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 04/07/2017

In The News South Africa

Welcome home Stephen McGown: Nkoana-Mashabane

PRETORIA, August 3 – South African Stephen Malcolm McGown has been released from Timbuktu, Mali, where he was been held by al-Qaeda militants since November 2011, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane announced on Thursday.

“He has been kept in captivity since then. The family, the government, all the people of South Africa and the international community has since been campaigning for his release. We are happy to announce that finally these efforts have culminated in Mr McGown’s release on the 29th of July 2017,” Nkoana-Mashabane said at a media briefing in Pretoria.

“We would like to warmly welcome him back home, and wish him good health, good fortune in his life as a free man. It is with sadness though that his dear mother who I have met during this difficult journey we have travelled with other members of the family passed on in May without seeing her son back home.”

Once again, Nkoana-Mashabane sent the South African government’s condolences to McGown.

Nkoana-Mashabane thanked fellow South Africans, the government and the people of Mali,  the Economic Community of West African States, different non-governmental organisations and certain individuals for numerous campaigns advocating for McGown’s release.

“We call on all South Africans to continue to support Steven, while allowing him space and the time he needs in the spirit of Ubuntu to adjust to his environment after years of incarceration,” she said.

McGown was travelling through Mali on a trans-Africa journey when he was one of three tourists abducted by gunmen from a restaurant in Timbuktu.

The attackers shot and killed a fourth tourist, a German, when he refused to climb into their truck.

Furthermore, Hope carried Catherine McGown, the wife of South African, Stephen McGown, who was held captive in Mali for almost six years by Al-Qaeda, through the ordeal, she said on Thursday.

“It’s been a very long time and I’m just so pleased that this day has come. It is unfortunate that Steve’s mum isn’t here. We spoke about hope. It is a funny thing — you are hopeful and then you get bad news. You are despondent, but yet you still have hope. You get back on track again, believing that he is gonna get back home, but then he doesn’t. But you still keep believing,” she said addressing a media briefing organised by the South African government.

“It is incredible. In terms of seeing Steve again, you play all these things around in your head — how it’s going to be, what you going to say, where it’s going to be. I’ve played all the scenarios in my mind and this is not how it happened.”

Stephen was released on July 25, and was reunited with his family in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Catherine shared the first moment she saw her husband at their Sandton home on Sunday, after his release from Mali.

“So he came out, looks at me and said your hair is growing, and I said actually your hair is longer than mine now,” said Catherine, laughing.

Stephen’s father, Malcolm McGown said his son felt as strong as before.

“It was a big surprise when Stephen walked through the door for the first meeting [after the release], but when I gave him a hug, he felt as sound and as strong as before. So he was well treated up there. Obviously it the joy of the miracle that had happened. We can’t describe it  I guess … unless you have travelled the road, you really don’t know what it’s like,” he said.

“We tried to keep my wife [Stephen’s mother] going by continually saying he is coming home but it didn’t quite work out the way we wanted. So we have had to say to Stephen a lot of water has passed under the bridge but you are strong, you got to get up and just carry on with your life and you make the best of what it is. Every experience in life has benefits.”

Beverly McGown passed away in May.

Malcolm McGown thanked all organisations and individuals who have been fighting for Stephen’s release.

“There was tremendous work done behind the scenes, and government assisted from the beginning. I really need to thank everyone for their prayers, through every race and creed. People around the world have really prayed for my son. The NGOs have helped us, and we have met many people along the road. There are some fine, very good people out there and I don’t wish for this to happen to anyone else. Thank you all for the compassion that we have had from everyone involved,” he said.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Stephen was getting all the necessary support.

State Security Minister David Mahlobo said it was a very agonising period when President Jacob Zuma delegated the ministers of state security and international relations to assist the family.

Mahlobo however emphasised that the South African government did not, and will not, pay ransom.

“Our foreign policy is very clear. We don’t actually get into payment of ransoms. At the same time, through our engagement from government to government and other bodies that are there, we were able to release him without any conditions. There are no conditions to the family, Mr McGown can confirm. The most important thing is the good news that through our shrewd engagement, supported by the African Union and other structures — Stephen is at home, reunited with his family,” said Mahlobo.

“We should be able to allow him space to do a reflection so that he can be able to proceed with his life. Almost six years lost. It’s a long time. The most important thing is that he is here. There are no conditions.”

McGown was travelling through Mali on a trans-Africa journey when he was one of three tourists abducted by gunmen from a restaurant in Timbuktu.

The attackers shot and killed a fourth tourist, a German, when he refused to climb into their truck.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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