South African hostage Stephen McGowanwas kidnapped in Mali in 2011. File Picture
DURBAN - South African hostage Stephen McGowan, kidnapped in Mali in 2011, is still alive according to a video released at the weekend.

An al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali, Nusrat Al Islam wal Muslimeen, released a video on Saturday proving that McGowan and six other foreign hostages, were still alive, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

The video shows McGowan, Elliot Kenneth Arthur of Australia, Iulian Ghergut of Romania, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland, Gloria Cecilia Narvaez of Colombia and Sophie Petronin of France.

Many of the foreign hostages have been held for years.

The release of the video came after Sweden’s government announced last week the freeing of hostage Johan Gustafsson, who was kidnapped alongside McGowan as they sat in a restaurant in Timbuktu.

However, there was no comment from the Swedish foreign ministry on the fate of McGowan after Gustafsson’s release.

The South African has remained in captivity despite humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers attempting to negotiate with the militants for his release since June 2015.

Imtiaaz Suliman, Gift of the Giver’s chairperson, said the al-Qaeda-linked group had demanded millions of rand for McGowan’s release, a sum the group could not afford.

The release of the hostage video also coincided with French President Emmanuel Macron arriving in the Mali capital Bamako on Sunday to support the launch of a new multinational force to combat militants in the Sahel region.

The multinational force, formed by the G5 Sahel countries Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, is expected to be operational in a few weeks and will include as many as 5 000 soldiers, with one battalion from each of the G5 countries.

The new force will complement the 12000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in the region, as well as the 5000 French troops already in Mali - which gained its independence from former colonial power France in 1960.

In addition to military support, France is also going to provide $228million (R3billion) in development aid over the next five years.

The fight against the jihadists is expected to focus on the border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where there have been regular attacks against military barracks over the past few months.