Family emotional as they receive Korkie’s remains

In 2009 Yolande and Pierre Korkie entered Yemen with their two children. They had been to Yemen previously for a university exchange.   

She told reporters at a press briefing in Johannesburg that she and her husband had decided to stay in Yemen because they were touched by the immense poverty in the country.   

“My husband has a heavy heart for poor people. He’s a teacher, he’s a teacher, he’s a teacher,” she said, as if her conscience had not accepted that her husband had passed.

“We found a teaching opportunity,” she continued.

Yolande was addressing journalists at a media briefing hosted by the Gift of the Givers Foundation on Tuesday. The address took place a few hours after Pierre’s body arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.   

“This morning we received Pierre’s remains,” said a distraught Yolande, speaking softly into the microphone.

“I visualised something different, his voice … ” her voice broke off. Her 15-year-old daughter, Lize-Mari, gently placed her hand on her mother’s back.

“There was intense emotions of longing,” she said. “The reality that this will never again be … We will never have him with us physically.”

Never got to say goodbye
Yolande’s voice was drowned out by the heavy rain and the clicking of cameras. Her 17-year-old son, Pieter-Ben, sat on his mother’s right hand side. He looked into the audience unflinchingly.   

“I deeply mourn for their [her children’s] loss. They never got to say goodbye. I had the opportunity of eight months being with Pierre, they never said goodbye,” she said.   

Pierre and American photographer Luke Somers were killed during an attempt by United States Special Forces to free them from their al-Qaeda captors in Yemen in the early hours of Saturday.   

US officials told the press they had no choice but to launch a Special Forces rescue operation in Yemen which resulted in deaths of both men.   

The failed raid came just a day before Pierre was due to be released under a negotiated deal. The Gift of the Givers Foundation said logistical arrangements had already been put in place to fly Korkie out of Yemen on Sunday.

“Why was it [our prayer] not answered in a way that we wanted it answered? Why are we suffering today,” asked Yolande.

She added: “I wish I had an answer for this. What will it help [asking] how it happened.” 

Yolande told the press that she and her family have decided to forgive. She said she and her children will keep Pierre’s legacy alive.

“The last memory I have of him … We were holding each other. He could not hear at that stage any more. He said I love you and tell the children I love them,” she said.

Al-Qaeda kidnapping
Pierre and Yolande had worked as teachers in Yemen for four years. They were both kidnapped by al-Qaeda in May 2013. Yolande was released on January 10 and returned to South Africa on January 13. 

The foundation helped negotiate her release. At the time of the kidnapping, Pierre was a teacher in Yemen, while Yolande did relief work in hospitals. The kidnappers demanded $3-million (about R32.5-million) in exchange for Pierre’s safe return. 

The foundation had tried to make contact with al-Qaeda through international media, and circulated an interview with their office manager in Yemen, Anas al-Hamati.

Al-Hamati was forced to leave Yemen at the end of January for his own safety, after al-Qaeda accused him of stealing the ransom money.

Tribal leaders in Yemen then took over the talks with al-Qaeda. On February 25, tribal leaders found out that Pierre was still alive but in bad health. Since then no more information was available on his condition.

Yolande told the press her children wrote letters to their father to keep his memory alive.

“At home we cook his favourite food and wear his favourite T-shirts. We keep his legacy alive,” she said.

At the time of the press briefing, Yolande and her children had still not seen Pierre’s body. She expressed gratitude to the US government for bringing Pierre back to the family.   

“We have closure. Thank you for his remains,” she said.

Yolande will be working on a book in order to tell the Korkie story. Pierre’s memorial service will take place on Friday in Bloemfontein. – Mail & Guardian

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