Humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers says South African Gerco van Deventer, who was held hostage in Mali for just over six years, has been taken to hospital for a “health review” following his release on Saturday.
The organisation’s founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said a very trusted intermediary called the organisation to say that Van Deventer had been released into Algeria.
“He could not be released through Mali, apparently because of the current new war between the Mali military and the Tuaregs. The man from Mauritania had requested a release via the Mauritania State Security, they refused. Eventually, they chose the route of Algeria to which the State Security agreed.
“South African State Security confirmed last night that Algerian State Security called to inform them that Gerco is freed, is with them and taken to hospital for a health review. We await the next step on his health and arrangements to bring him home to be reunited with wife Shereen and son Asher.
“It has been six agonising years of prayer, patience and hope. May Gerco return home soon, safely,” said Sooliman.
Detailing the history of the case, the organisation said Van Deventer was taken in Libya on November 3, 2017, sold to JNIM (Al-Qaeda) in Mali in 2018 and finally released unconditionally on Saturday, making him the longest-held South African hostage in captivity.
“Gift of the Givers, at the request of the family, got involved in 2018, contacted JNIM (Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin), whom we dealt with for the release of Stephen McGown, Johan Gustafsson, Christo Bothma and connected many negotiators from various countries to them on behalf of multiple hostages.
“The initial request for Gerco was $3 million, and over a period of time we negotiated the amount down to $500 000.”
However the family could not afford the ransom, there was no benefactor and the company where Van Deventer had just commenced work could not assist.
“Having no ransom to pay for Gerco and no further leverage, negotiations stalled and eventually with Covid-19 went cold completely until January 2023 when one of our intermediary contacts in Mali requested us to restart the process. We had nothing new to offer. Nevertheless, we tried again.
“In Ramadaan of this year, we requested unconditional, ransom-free release as hearts are generally softened during the fasting period. Letters from religious leaders were forwarded to support our request. We tried again during the period of Hajj (pilgrimage), a very significant time.
“Then came the Morocco earthquake. We offered assistance, but it was not required. However, it drew a response from the captors who have links with Morocco, and through the intermediaries we received an indirect message of appreciation.
“We used that moment to request unconditional release once again. Then with our intervention in Gaza, one of the chief intermediaries in Mali with whom we have a relationship since 2015 requested the video messages from the family, the public and the private ones.
“The request came on 16 November, several hours after Gift of the Givers office head in Gaza, Ahmed Abbasi, was directly targeted and murdered by Israeli Occupation Forces after returning from morning prayer. His brother was killed too. We are not sure if this had any relevance.
“On 5 December we received a call from someone in Mauritania who said they are working on the release. We don’t know the person, have never had contact with him previously,” said Sooliman.