SA hostage a no-show due to poor health

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A press conference where the recently released al-Qaeda hostage Stephen McGowan was meant to address the media, was cancelled at the eleventh hour after McGowan’s doctor refused to let him leave the hospital for medical reasons.

The throng of journalists who waited for him to arrive, at the humanitarian aid organisation Gift of the Givers operation site in Bramley, were told that McGowan’s doctor at Milpark Hospital had decided to keep him in following his latest results.

“His doctor is not keen for him to leave the hospital. It’s not only that but it is a problem for all of us ... it is something infectious,” said Gift of the Givers head Imtiaz Sooliman. He said it was “some results preventing him from going out”, adding that a date for another press conference would be scheduled for next week.

The news of McGowan’s poor health comes just a day after his clearly overjoyed and relieved father, Malcolm McGowan, said his son looked alright. “I’m pleased to say my son is looking well, very healthy and his mind seems as sharp as ever. I gave him a hug...he felt as sound and strong as before; so he was well treated up there,” McGowan’s father said.

McGowan had been held hostage in Timbuktu, Mali, since he was captured in November 2011 while on holiday. He was abducted with Swede Johan Gustafsson and Dutch Sjaak Rijke.

Now almost six years later, he arrives home to the news that his mother Beverly died in May. While his family was brimming with joy and relief, his release triggered international media attention amid reports that a ransom of about €3.5 million (R55.27 million) was paid for his release.

This has since been denied by the South African government citing good relations with the Mali government for his subsequent release.

“We don’t get into payment of ransoms...we were able to get him released without any conditions,” intelligence minister David Mahlobo said on Thursday.

For most journalists who attended the planned press conference in numbers, there was only one hope: for McGowan to shed some light on his release.

While speculation continues on how exactly or on what conditions, if any, he was released, hope remains that only McGowan could possibly set the record straight. Whether he does say if any money was paid for his release or not, the media was still dying to have him share his experience while at the mercy of militants.


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