Help release SA hostages, Somalis urged
Johannesburg - Somalis are being asked to encourage the release of two South Africans who were kidnapped by pirates and are being held for ransom, the Gift of the Givers said on Wednesday.
"All Somalis in South Africa could make that appeal to encourage them to release the two," said Gift of the Givers head Imtiaz Sooliman. The organisation is part of a humanitarian relief effort in Somalia.
Sooliman confirmed a report in The Times on Wednesday that Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz had been "sold" and moved several times as a "commodity" since they were taken from the yacht Choizil in October while en route from Tanzania to Richard's Bay.
Sooliman said when the Gift of the Givers went to Mogadishu in August, it was told of their plight and was asked if it could help.
Through second and third parties, the organisation had been told that Pelizzari and Calitz had been "sold" several times, and that initially, several middlemen had negotiated their release.
"They were being treated like a commodity. By only having one negotiator, the ransom had dropped from $10m [about R77.27m] to $4m [about R30.9m], to $1.5m [about R11.59m] then $1m [about R7.72m] and now it is going below R1m," said Sooliman.
About a week ago, one of the organisation's people returned from a new area it had begun working in on the coast and said he had seen two people he assumed were the two South Africans among 21 hostages being kept in the area.
The woman, who he assumed was Calitz, was wearing Somali dress. She and the man looked well. He was not allowed to take photographs.
The people holding them complained that it was costing a lot of money to feed and care for them.
Sooliman said the South African government did not negotiate with pirates and did not become involved in ransom matters.
He hoped that it would help to appeal, locally, to the goodwill of Somalis and to lobby for their release in Somalia.
"We are asking Somali people in the country to show some goodwill," said Sooliman.
"South Africans have helped your people extensively," he said.
"As a gesture of goodwill, release the South Africans to us."
So far, the negotiations had been "calm" and there had been "a good dialogue", he said.
In August, a court in Rotterdam sentenced five people involved in the kidnapping to jail sentences for piracy and conspiracy to piracy.
A conference which will include discussions on safety in Somalia begins in London on Thursday.