Durban - Pierre Korkie, 56, the Bloemfontein teacher being held hostage in Yemen by al-Qaeda kidnappers, is still alive, but in poor health.
The kidnappers had threatened to kill him by Friday, or early on Saturday at the latest, if they did not get a $3 million (R32.5m) ransom.
But Imtiaz Sooliman, head of the Gift of the Givers charity, which is trying to negotiate his release, said on Saturday he and his Yemeni representative, Anas al-Hamati, had secured a three-week extension of the deadline.
“Pierre is ALIVE,” Sooliman said in an elated SMS on Saturday. “We have achieved a stay in execution for now.
“We have been granted a three-week extension. They also volunteered information that Pierre is not in good health.
“After a break in communication for almost 72 hours, we called them last night (Friday) and left a message that we need to meet.
“They called back and replied in the affirmative. Anas then made the long drive back from the undisclosed place of safety and met them in a car at 4am. The meeting was cordial and decent.
“We agreed to pursue further discussions in the days to come,” said Sooliman.
Pierre and his wife, Yolande, 43, were kidnapped in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz on May 27.
They had been in Yemen for four years, Pierre teaching English and Yolande working at a hospital for widows and orphans and also giving therapeutic horse-riding lessons to the disabled.
After months of searching and four days of intensive negotiations by the Gift of the Givers team, the kidnappers released Yolande without a ransom on Friday, January 10, but warned that they would send her husband’s head home “in a box” if they did not get $3m in eight days.
Yolande made an impassioned plea to her husband’s captors at a press conference on Thursday to show the mercy of Mandela by freeing him unharmed.
Sooliman said the negotiations were going badly, as the kidnappers were simply demanding the $3m.
On Friday afternoon, Sooliman had expressed grave misgivings about Pierre’s fate, because he said he and Al-Hamati had not heard from the kidnappers since Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, Al-Hamati had asked them for an extension of 30 days, and on Thursday evening had called the kidnappers “to make it very clear that, even though there may be an extension of time, under no circumstances will we be able to raise $3m, irrespective of the number of months that may be given.”
After that there had been “an ominous silence” from the kidnappers, and Sooliman feared the worst.
Then they got the 11pm call on Friday to say Pierre was alive, and to grant them the 21-day extension of the deadline.
Yolande revealed at the press conference on Thursday that Pierre had a serious hernia problem and needed an urgent operation.
A friend of the Korkie family said from Bloemfontein that they had raised about R1m of the R32.5m demanded.
Nelson Kgwete, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said that Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim had left late on Saturday afternoon for Yemen to try to help secure Pierre’s release.