South African hostage Stephen McGowan Picture: Militant Video via AP

Johannesburg – South African hostage Stephen McGowan, kidnapped in Mali in 2011, is still alive according to a video released over the weekend.

An al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali, Nusrat Al Islam wal Muslimeen, released a video on Saturday proving that McGowan, and six other foreign hostages, are still alive, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

The video shows McGowan, Elliot Kenneth Arthur of Australia, Iulian Ghergut of Romania, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland, Gloria Cecilia Narvaez of Colombia and Sophie Petronin of France.

Many of the foreign hostages have been held for years.

The release of the video came after Sweden's government announced last week the freeing of hostage Johan Gustafsson, who was kidnapped alongside McGowan as they sat in a restaurant in Timbuktu. 

However, there was no comment from the Swedish foreign ministry on the fate of McGowan following Gustafsson’s release.

The South African has remained in captivity despite humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers attempting to negotiate with the militants for his release since June 2015.

Gift of the Giver’s chairman Imtiaaz Suliman stated that the al-Qaeda-linked group had demanded millions of rand for McGowan’s release, a sum the group could not afford.

The release of the hostage video also coincided with French President Emmanuel Macron arriving in the Mali capital Bamako on Sunday to support the launch of a new multinational force to combat militants in the Sahel region. 

The multinational force formed by the G5 Sahel countries Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad is expected to be operational in a few weeks and will include as many as 5,000 soldiers, with one battalion from each of the G5 countries.

Macron told the summit that France would contribute $9 million to the new force as well as contributing 70 vehicles.

Another $57 million was pledged by the European Union (EU) while Paris is seeking additional funding from partners, including Germany and the United States.

The new force will complement the 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in the region as well as the 5 000 French troops already in Mali which gained its independence from former colonial power France in 1960.

More than 100 UN soldiers have died in recent months, making it the most deadly UN mission to date.

But in addition to military support France is also going to provide $228 million in development aid over the next five years.

The border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso is where the fight against the jihadists is expected to focus as there have been regular attacks against military barracks there over the last few months.

In June at least five soldiers were killed in an attack on an army post in northern Mali, according to the country's military.

Eight others were also wounded in the attack in Bintagoungou, Colonel Diarran Kone, spokesman for the Malian Army said. 

France’s military intervention in January 2013 forced the militants back from northern Mali. 

However, various armed groups have continued to carry out attacks despite a 2015 alliance between Tuareg-led rebels and the Malian government, which was brokered by Algeria.

Nusrat Al Islam Wal Muslimeen announced its formation in March, stating that it was merging three groups, including the al-Qaeda-linked Al Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The organisation claimed responsibility for May’s attack on a resort area popular with foreigners outside Mali's capital that killed at least five people.

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has described the al-Qaeda-linked extremists in the Sahel as "without face and with no ethics".

"They do not share our values," Keita said.