Johannesburg - Tuesday marks a year since Pierre Korkie was kidnapped in Yemen.
Yolande, the wife of the Bloemfontein teacher, and their family and friends have called on South Africans to pray and fast for his release.
“Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Pierre’s captivity,” they said in a statement released on Monday.
“We are calling on the nation to seek God’s face in fasting and prayer on May 27 for:
Pierre and Yolande were kidnapped by al-Qaeda operatives in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz.
He had been teaching Yemenis to speak English and she had been helping out at a hospital for widows and orphans and giving therapeutic horse-riding lessons to the disabled.
Their captors released Yolande on January 10 to Anas al-Hamati, a negotiator for the Gift of the Givers Foundation, but with a threat to execute him within eight days if they did not get a ransom of $3 million.
The foundation managed to extend the deadline into February but then lost contact with the captors, so Korkie’s fate is unknown.
However, Gift of the Givers head Imtiaz Sooliman said last week that earlier this month it had received confirmation from more than one source that Pierre had been recently seen alive together with a UN aid worker of Sierra Leonean nationality, also captured last year.
“They were being moved from one region to another,” Sooliman said in a statement. “We are now totally dependent on the goodwill of an increasing number of tribal leaders who have shown a great willingness to try to talk to al-Qaeda to come to an amicable settlement to release Pierre, as the option of paying ransom is not viable.
“The reality is that ransom money is just unavailable.”
Sooliman described how his negotiator in Yemen, al-Hamati, had lost contact with Pierre’s captors for several months because of a dispute over the $3m ransom they were demanding.
But he said that through his own tribal leaders, al-Hamati had managed to get tribal leaders from Abyan province to meet al-Qaeda on March 17. They had repeated their demand for the ransom, but Sooliman found it encouraging that, for the first time, they did not threaten to execute Pierre if the ransom was not paid.
“Towards the end of April, we were preparing to send in a team of tribal sheikhs again to speak to al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, an all-out war broke out between al-Qaeda and the Yemeni army since about April 25, with casualties on both sides and 20 000 people internally displaced already.
“In the process of the fighting we received confirmation that the al-Qaeda operative who actually handed over Yolande to Anas on January 10 and threatened to execute Pierre has been killed.
“Under these circumstances, there is no opportunity for meeting, negotiation or dialogue.”
On Monday, Reuters reported that Yemen’s security forces had killed al-Qaeda leader Saleh al-Tais, who had been involved in attacks on diplomats and other foreign targets, according to the Yemeni Defence Ministry.
Sooliman said he did not know if al-Tais had been involved in the capture of the Korkies.
Independent Foreign Service