Africa

South African Stephen McGown freed by al-Qaeda in Mali

Stephen McGown Image copyright SITE
Image caption Stephen McGown was kidnapped while touring Timbuktu more than five years ago

A South African held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been released.

Stephen McGown, who also has UK nationality, was kidnapped from a hotel in Timbuktu along with two others.

In December 2015 a video of Mr McGown and another hostage - Swede Johan Gustafsson, freed in June - was posted on YouTube to show they were alive.

Authorities say he was released after efforts by the two countries' governments and NGO Gift of the Givers.

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He was freed on 29 July and is now home with his family. But it is not clear why news of the release was delayed - some believe this was a security precaution.

"It was a big surprise when I saw Stephen walk through the door. When I hugged him, he felt as strong as ever," his father told Malcolm McGown told reporters in Pretoria where the announcement of his son's release was made.

He thanked South Africans of "every race and creed" for their support over the last few years.

"I wouldn't ever wish this to happen to anyone else, but they will have the support of the government...I would like to thank President Zuma for everything they did," he said.

The government says no ransom was paid for Mr McGown's release.

"We are happy to announce that finally these efforts have culminated in Mr McGown's release on 29 July 2017. We would like to warmly welcome him back home and wish him good health and good fortune in his life as a free man," International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a media briefing in Pretoria.

"It is with sadness though, that his dear mother, Beverly passed on in May 2017 without seeing her son again. The government extends, its deepest condolences to Stephen and his family. May her soul rest in eternal peace," she added.

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