‘We are a family standing at a station, waiting for the train to arrive. All we can do is wait. There is nothing else we can possibly do.”
Michael Venter sighed heavily as he relayed for the umpteenth time how Yolande Korkie and her teenage children were holding up as they waited anxiously for word from al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen last night. But there was only deafening silence.
Korkie and her husband Pierre were kidnapped in May in the Yemeni city of Taiz.
NGO Gift of the Givers successfully negotiated Yolande’s release without any ransom a week ago, but the kidnappers have demanded R32 million for the release of her husband – a 53-year-old Bloemfontein teacher.
And they have vowed to send his “head in a box” by Sunday if the ransom was not paid.
“It is a difficult, awkward situation. Yolande is with the children. She is very quiet, very much in her own head. It is hard for the children. They are teenagers with strong emotions and they know exactly what is going on. They know how serious this is.”
Venter said the family had a strong support network of friends and extended family, church members and the community – and everyone was praying for Pierre.
Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman admitted yesterday afternoon that there had been a complete blackout on information from the captors since Wednesday.
“On that day we spoke to them for about three minutes only. All previous communication was several hours per day either telephonically, face-to-face, or both. We requested an extension of time but specifically asked for 30 days to which we’ve had no response to date.”
The following day, said Sooliman, there was no communication the entire day.
“In the evening we called the captors to make it very clear that even though there may be an extension of time, under no circumstances will we be able to raise $3 million irrespective of the number of months that may be given.
“We didn’t want to create the expectancy that the extension of time will automatically result in the delivery of $3 million.
“When we gave that clarification it was the first time in 11 days that there was an ominous silence. They didn’t respond, comment, acknowledge or say anything. They just cut the call. We tried for a second time but they refused to answer that call.”
Sooliman said it was at that time that Anas al-Hamati, the Gift of the Givers’ office manager in Yemen, became concerned about his own security.
“It was on Monday that they told him since you don’t have $3 million maybe we should take you away.”
He said in the interest of al-Hamati’s security he was moved to an undisclosed secure location on Thursday.
“For now there is a total shutdown in communication between us and the captors. We don’t know the state Pierre is in right now but we remain positive.”
Gift of the Givers said meanwhile that, according to their calculations, the eight-day deadline ends tomorrow at 6am.
“But on Monday they told us it was this Friday (yesterday). No specific time was given. We can only hope that Yolande’s international call for ‘a stay-in-execution’ is acted upon by favourable decision makers.
“At this moment in time our hearts and prayers go out to the Korkie family. Only they understand the difficult circumstances they find themselves in as there can be no pain greater than the uncertainty of knowing the whereabouts and condition of your loved one and whether that loved one is still alive or deceased,” Sooliman said.
One person who knows exactly what emotions and feelings Yolande must be experiencing is Vera Hecht.
Hecht’s brother Bruno Pelizzari and his partner, Debbie Calitz, were captured by Somali pirates and held for ransom for 20 months.
“Nothing that anyone says or does will make Yolande feel any better right now. Only she knows in her heart how she and her husband were treated while they were there together, “Hecht said. “She knows what these people are capable of. She is probably in her own head playing different scenarios over and over.
“But we are at their mercy. All we can do is be patient, have trust, have faith and be strong. We really live in a crazy, crazy world,” Hecht said.
Meanwhile, the International Relations Department said earlier that Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim would travel to Yemen to consult with its government and other interested parties on the kidnapping.
Spokesman Nelson Kgwete said Ebrahim was scheduled to leave for Yemen today.
By late last night Sooliman had still heard nothing, saying only that they were looking at “how to open the dialogue again”.