Pierre Korkie, pictured, was a teacher at Grey College in Bloemfontein and Yolande a preprimary teacher.

Johannesburg - The Gift of the Givers charity is bargaining ever harder with al-Qaeda kidnappers in Yemen to secure the release of Bloemfontein teacher Pierre Korkie before their Friday deadline to kill him if they don’t get a $3 million (R30.3m) ransom.

But Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said today he believed the relationship with the group had improved over the last two days.

He said after securing the release of Pierre’s wife Yolande on Friday, his Yemeni representative Anas al-Hamati was “back in al-Qaeda territory face to face with them” from Monday night.

“They were more threatening and aggressive this time, demanding money all the time,” he said, adding to his earlier remark the kidnappers had been dismayed al-Hamati had not arrived with the $3m and had threatened to break off negotiations immediately – or to take him.

Al-Hamati faced them down by saying if they took him they would not get $50. “We made it clear that we need time and don’t have money,” Sooliman said.

“They said he (al-Hamati) must go with them on Tuesday to their leader. He went. At noon SA time yesterday, al-Qaeda operatives called me asking about the money.

“I re-emphasised that the time was too short, that the ransom was too high, that we are not Americans, Europeans or rich Arabs like them, that we are from the poor continent of Africa.”

“They said it’s not their problem. They insisted $3m by Friday or they execute Pierre. I drummed it into them that we don’t have money, we need time; the South African government won’t pay and they should release Pierre.

“I told them Pierre is old and sick – Yolande said at the weekend he has a hernia problem – and what benefit would there be to harm him.

“After I put the phone down, Anas confirmed the guy I spoke to told the others we need time and there is no money. They were just repeating the usual old stories. Anas said he left them and said they would meet again.

“Anas will meet some of them today but he said by yesterday afternoon he felt the relationship with them had significantly improved and he felt happier and much more positive.”

Sooliman said he was unable to say how the fund-raising for Pierre’s ransom was going as that was up to Yolande, who returned to South Africa on Monday.

Cape Argus