Korkie a ‘profound influence’ on Zola Budd, Ryk Neethling

2014-12-08 11:43

Pierre Korkie, the teacher killed by al-Qaeda in Yemen on Saturday, had a great influence on some of South Africa’s greatest athletes, including Olympic swimmer Ryk Neethling and runner Zola Budd.

“I spent a lot of time with him. He was one of the teachers I had the most interaction with at school,” Neethling said today.

“He made a big impact in my life. You have a lot of teachers at school. He was always someone I remembered.”

Budd expressed sadness at the death of her ex-coach and friend.

“I am very saddened by Pierre’s death and my heart goes out to the family,” she said.

“He had a profound influence on my life and I will miss him.”

Korkie coached Budd in 1988, at the height of her athletics career.

Korkie and American photographer Luke Somers were killed during an attempt by United States special forces to free them from their captors in Yemen in the early hours of Saturday.

Korkie taught Neethling biology and was also his register class teacher. This is where pupils are marked present and administrative issues are dealt with before they go to their lessons.

“He was somebody who was firm. There was always discipline in his classes and he had a calmness about him,” said Neethling.

“The respect he got was not a physical thing that he demanded, it was just the kind of reception he got. He was a real gentleman.”

Neethling said Korkie was passionate about athletics and pupils loved him.

“Hundreds of boys, now men, all pay their respects to him. He had a very big impact.”

Neethling said since Korkie had been captured it had been tough on everybody who knew him. He said the news of his death was devastating and he sent his condolences to the family.

Korkie had worked as a teacher at Grey College in Bloemfontein since 1982. Neethling matriculated from there in 1995.

Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped by militants in Taiz, Yemen, last May. Yolande was released on January 10 and returned to South Africa on January 13. The Gift of the Givers helped negotiate her release. The kidnappers demanded a $3 million (about R32.5 million) ransom in exchange for Korkie’s safe return.

At the time of the kidnapping, Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals.

US President Barack Obama said the rescue operation was necessary as Somers’ life was in imminent danger. He cited a video released by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on Thursday in which they threatened to kill Somers within 72 hours.

The Gift of the Givers foundation, which helped in negotiating with Al-Qaeda, said Korkie died a day before he was due to be released following a negotiated deal. Tribal families had been paid $200 000 (about R2.2 million) in compensation for the deaths of their relatives, killed during a US drone attack, while trying to help free Korkie.

A top US diplomat says the United States did not know about talks on Korkie’s reportedly imminent release.

Patrick Gaspard, the American ambassador in South Africa, said today that American officials were “unaware of ongoing negotiations that had any resolution” between the militants and Gift of the Givers.

Korkie’s body was due to arrive in South Africa today and a memorial service would be held this week.

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