Shiraaz Mohamed
Johannesburg - South African photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed has once again appealed for assistance in securing his release from captivity in Syria.

This week, a new letter by the 41-year-old, addressed to anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee, Al-Imdaad Foundation trustee Qari Ziyaad Patel, and a person named only as “Maryke”, emerged. In the letter, seen by Saturday Star, he asks for help and says he is doing “well”.

He was taken hostage more than two years ago and earlier this year his captors demanded $1.5 million (R22m) for his release.

In his letter, Mohamed bemoans a lack of support by the South African government and humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers.

“Imtiaz Sooliman (founder of Gift of the Givers) fails to accept responsibility. He failed to provide me with adequate security and now he talks of a no-ransom policy and is using this as a branding marketing campaign for himself. Our government, whom I was told would pay the ransom, have changed their minds.”

But Sooliman said his organisation was not responsible for Mohamed’s safety. “We never sent Shiraaz to Syria. I’ve never met him. The same guy that invited him is the guy the captors are refusing to deal with. What need is there for us to market or brand anything in respect of Shiraaz’s case? We have not been involved since June. We have totally withdrawn. We informed Shiraaz’s family, Dirco (Department of International Relations and Co-operation) and state security.”

While there are questions around the authenticity of Mohamed’s latest letter, his family believe it’s real. “That letter is in Shiraaz’s handwriting,” said Shaaziya Brijlal, Mohamed’s former wife. “I recognise the writing and so do his mother and his brother.”

Meanwhile, Mohamed’s mother, Shireen, said she had been in contact with her son’s captors.

“We have been liaising with them since August,” she said in a statement on social media yesterday. “Over the past few months we have received proof of life, including a video clip on September 23.

“We are the closest we have ever been to bringing him home, with the grace of the almighty.”

She said her son’s kidnappers have demanded $700000 in exchange for his freedom.

“The family cannot raise this amount of money. We have tried countless organisations, individuals and even our government, but no one is helping us. I was able to briefly talk to the president and hand him a letter. He promised to give the matter his urgent attention. To date, we have not heard back.”

She called on South Africans to come forward and help her. “Our message to Shiraaz is that we - his mother, brother, sisters, brother-in-law and Shaaziya - are trying our very best to get him home.

“You are in our thoughts and prayers every day. We love you more than anything and we will never forsake you. As a mother, this is a desperate call to my fellow South Africans and the world, any organisation, any individual, any government, any country, anyone who can help.

“My son needs you, my family and I need you. Time is running out. Please help me save my son.”

Saturday Star