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Johannesburg - Yolande Korkie, the South African hostage released by al-Qaeda kidnappers in Yemen on Friday after nearly eight months in captivity, arrived back in Joburg safely on Monday night.
She was met by relatives at OR Tambo International Airport, the government said. She would later travel on to her home town, Bloemfontein, to be reunited with her two children and other close relatives.
Korkie would give no media interviews for now but she had told Independent Newspapers at the weekend from Yemen that the focus of her freedom would be to raise the $3 million (R32.1m) in ransom which al-Qaeda is demanding not to kill her teacher husband Pierre, who remains in the group’s custody in a remote part of Yemen.
Korkie appealed to all South Africans and others to help her save his life.
Today in that remote location, Anas al-Hamati, the local representative of South Africa’s Gift of the Givers charity, who negotiated Yolande’s release last Friday, began a new round of face-to-face talks with the kidnappers to try to secure Pierre’s freedom.
Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Gift of the Givers, who has been orchestrating the negotiations for the release of the couple, said on Monday that Al-Hamati had been in constant communication with the kidnappers over the past few days from the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
He had flown out of Sana’a on Monday night to a destination which Sooliman could not disclose and was driving to meet Pierre’s captives.
“He is taking copies of Pierre and Yolande’s South African passports to show they are not American and so they can’t ask for a ransom in US dollars because they are South African. The aim is to reduce the ransom and extend the deadline by a month.”
Sooliman had said last week during negotiations – before the kidnappers agreed to release Yolande for no ransom – that the kidnappers believed the Korkies were Americans and could afford a higher ransom.
Korkie flew out of Sana’a on Sunday evening and was due to catch a connecting flight in Dubai just after midnight. However, the Dubai flight was delayed by several hours and so she only arrived in Johannesburg on Monday evening, said Nelson Kgwete, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
He added that South Africa’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sadiq Jaffer, who is also accredited to Yemen, had flown out to South Africa with Korkie after travelling from Riyadh to Sana’a to arrange her return to South Africa.
Some of Korkie’s relatives also met her in Johannesburg and she stayed with them on Monday night.
She said at the weekend that she longed to be reunited with her 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, who are in Bloemfontein.
There had been consideration given to her staying on in Yemen to support the efforts to release Pierre from there but she evidently felt she could do that just as well from South Africa.
It is understood that she and/or the Gift of the Givers might officially launch an appeal for funds very soon, as time is running out.
Pierre and Yolande were kidnapped in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz on May 27 last year. They had been in the country for about four years.
Pierre was working for a local NGO, teaching English to Yemeni students. Many wanted to learn the language but had few opportunities to do so, said Korkie.
She said she had been helping Pierre but also training horses and working in a Taiz hospital.
When Al-Hamati was negotiating intensely with the kidnappers in a remote part of Yemen last week, he showed them evidence of the work the Korkies had been doing in Yemen, to help argue for their release.
Sooliman said last week that Al-Hamati had argued with the kidnappers that the work the Korkies had done in Yemen was worth more than the $2 million ransom they were then demanding for Pierre and $115 000 for Yolande.
Eventually they agreed to release Yolande for no ransom but then increased the price on Pierre’s head to $3 million, with a threat to kill him if the money was not paid within eight days of his wife’s release.