Pretoria - The South African man held by Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen is alive, Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said on Thursday.
“Mr Pierre Korkie is alive. We have some indication to that... Our information is he is alive,” he told reporters in Pretoria.
There were eight other foreign hostages being held in Yemen in areas beyond the government's control. Ebrahim described Korkie's kidnapping as a case of “mistaken identity”, as South Africans were not normally targeted.
“The Yemen authorities, who have considerable experience dealing with situations of this type, emphasised that the motive for the kidnapping was not political,” said Ebrahim.
“We reiterated that the South African government does not pay ransom under any circumstances.”
He urged South Africans travelling overseas, especially to areas of conflict, to be careful and register at South African embassies.
Ebrahim visited Yemen at the weekend where his delegation met Yemen's security services, the country's foreign minister, interior minister, prime minister and President Abdel-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Ebrahim made an emotional appeal on Yemeni television for Korkie's release.
“Pierre Korkie is gravely ill and desperately needs medical attention. His life is in danger. Islam enjoins us to show mercy and forbids us from harming the sick, even in war. I beg those who are holding him to release him without delay,” Ebrahim said during the broadcast.
“South Africa is a developing country and the Korkies are not a rich family. I appeal to you to co-operate with all initiatives so that Pierre Korkie can come home for the treatment he needs to save his life and be reunited with his family.”
Ebrahim did not believe the kidnappers had been given the impression, from his televised plea, that the South African government would negotiate with them.
He said efforts by the Korkie family to raise the ransom amount of US$3 million (about R32.5 million) were a private matter.
On Wednesday, the Gift of the Givers Foundations said the Al-Qaeda militants holding Korkie had made contact.
“We received a text message from Al-Qaeda about two hours ago asking where is the ransom money from the SA government,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, head of the disaster relief organisation.
“According to their understanding, they quote Yemen media, 1/8that 3/8 the SA government was coming to negotiate with them but note that no one approached them.”
Sooliman said the foundation replied that the South African government, as well as all other governments, did not negotiate with kidnappers and did not pay ransoms. The kidnappers replied that governments said that publicly, but still paid “under the radar”.
“We said maybe other governments, but not us from Africa,” said Sooliman.
The militants did not discuss negotiations around the ransom, nor did they mention anything regarding the ransom deadline or Korkie's health.
The militants threatened to execute Korkie last Friday if they were not given the ransom in exchange for his safe return. After an initial silence, the kidnappers made contact, indicating that Korkie was still alive on Saturday. They gave a three-week extension to raise the ransom.
The couple were kidnapped in the city of Taiz in Yemen in May. Korkie's wife Yolande was held for seven months and after extensive negotiations she was released in January without a ransom. She returned home last week. At the time of the kidnapping, Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals. - Sapa