Fate of SA hostage captured in Mali remains unclear

The freeing of Dutch hostage Sjaak Rijke by French soldiers in Mali on Monday has raised new questions over the fate of South African hostage Stephen McGowan, who was captured with Rijke in Mali in November 2011.

McGowan’s father, Malcolm, who lives in Johannesburg, has been asked to keep a low profile by the department of international relations and co-operation, despite overwhelming concern for his son, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants while on a road trip across Africa. He was on his way home to South Africa after a stint working in Britain.

Malcolm McGowan last month appealed to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and try to speed up the process of trying to negotiate Stephen’s release.

McGowan’s request was acknowledged but there has been no formal response from Ramaphosa.

The Mail & Guardian spoke to McGowan telephonically on Monday following the release of Rijke.

“Now is the time to ask ‘where is our man’,” McGowan said.

Officially, efforts for the release of Stephen McGowan are in the hands of the department of international relations and co-operation. Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department, told the M&G in February this year that the department was handling the issue but could not convey any further information. Yesterday he reiterated that position.

Surprise release
On Monday morning, according to a statement by the French defence ministry, French Special Forces, together with soldiers from France’s Operation Barkhane, ­conducted a predawn raid on terrorist groups in northeastern Mali when Rijke was freed. Two militants were killed and two handed themselves over.

French President Francois Hollande told local media France was proud to have freed a man “deprived of his liberty for too long”.

However, Hollande indicated that liberating Rijke was not the objective of the raid, one among many in this part of Mali, where France has been chasing out Islamist terrorists since January 2013.


“It has a surprise for us, for our forces, to be able to free this hostage, since we had no information about the presence of this hostage,” Hollande is quoted as saying by the French daily Liberation.

McGowan, Rijke and Johan Gustafson, a Swedish national, were taken hostage while sitting in a restaurant in Timbuktu. A German tourist was killed during the capture.

The three hostages have been dubbed “the forgotten Timbuktu three” by international security websites because of the lack of media coverage of their cases compared with the high profile given to French hostages captured in Mali.

Swift precedent
Four French hostages were freed in October 2013 following a dedicated media campaign and, in December last year, Serge Lazarevic – the last French hostage in Mali – was freed, allegedly after the payment of a ransom.

Video footage released by the hostage-takers has shown Lazarevic had contact with the Timbuktu three.

A hostage negotiator who has been following the case closely for the past three years and wants to remain anonymous, has told the M&G that the freeing of Rijke is a sign that the three were kept in separate locations.

He says authorities had asked the families to keep a low profile due to the sensitivity of the case.

The French defence ministry on Monday declined to comment on the fate of McGowan following the release of Rijke. Asked about his fate, a spokesperson said the ministry “cannot communicate on this issue”.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Liesl Louw-Vaudran is an independent journalist and Africa expert. She lived in Senegal for many years and has reported from over 20 African countries. She is a regular commentator on African issues in the local and international media. From 2002 to 2008 she was the Africa Editor at Media24 newspapers in South Africa and still contributes to newspapers such as the Mail&Guardian in Johannesburg. Liesl also works as a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies, notably as editor of the African Union Peace and Security Council Report.
Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday