Johannesburg – Yolande Korkie, the South African teacher kidnapped with her husband in Yemen last May, was released early on Friday after four days of intensive negotiations by SA’s Gift of the Givers charity organisation.
But her shadowy Yemeni kidnappers, possibly aligned to Al-Qaeda, continue to hold her husband Pierre, demanding several million dollars in ransom – within eight days from Friday for his release.
Imtiaz Sooliman, head of Gift of the Givers, on Friday said: “Yolande is in our hands in our car….She is distraught, crying, asking us to release Pierre.”
The Korkies, teachers from Bloemfontein, were kidnapped by armed men in the southern city of Taiz last May.They had been working for a local charity development group.
Sooliman said Anas al Hamati, his representative in Yemen, had secured the release of Yolande after many months of searching throughout Yemen.
Their efforts culminated in many hours of hard bargaining by Anas - with Sooliman on the phone in South Africa - over the last four days with her four kidnappers.
“Anas spoke to her initially at 1.45am SA time (on Friday) then one of the kidnappers called me at 2.15am to speak to Yolande,” Sooliman said on Friday.
“She was really scared and spoke to me initially in Afrikaans. I replied in Afrikaans, explained to her who I am, what we’ve done. That she will be received by Anas, that she spoke to him at 1.45, that she is completely safe with him.
“She wanted to speak to her children and was very worried about Pierre.”
“It was a massive security risk for Anas but with faith he went. He met the kidnappers face-to-face. The discussion was cordial….”
“No masks were worn. Lots of diplomacy took place.”
At first the kidnappers had demanded $15 000 (about R162 000) in ransom for Yolande and $2 million for Pierre, thinking they were Westerners, Americans.
“We made it clear that although they are ‘White’ they are from South Africa,” Sooliman said.
“We are trying to convince them to ‘cut their losses’ because they got the wrong people,” he said during the course of the negotiations..
He told them that the Korkie family could not afford such high ransom and the SA government would not pay either, as it has a policy of not paying ransoms to kidnappers.
The kidnappers then said they should ask the Qatar government, but Sooliman said: “We're South Africans not Qataris.”
Sooliman said that Anas had shown them the good work the Korkies had been doing to Yemeni people over the past four years, teaching for a charitable NGO. He had also shown them photos of their two children, back in South Africa.
Eventually on Thursday they agreed to let Yolande go for nothing but to hold Pierre back, demanding a large ransom for him in eight days.
Sooliman now faces the challenge of raising the ransom for Pierre or negotiating the kidnappers down.
“This has been 4 days of intense dialogue, negotiation, diplomacy, meeting kidnappers face-to-face, being frank with them, laying our cards down and steadily building trust and appealing to human compassion,” a relieved Sooliman said on Friday.
“It has been risky, dangerous, a security risk travelling through different cities unarmed and with no escort, armed with faith only.”