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Voice of America: Family Renews Calls to Free South African Hostage in Mali

The family of a South African held hostage by jihadis in Mali for more than five years launched a fresh appeal for his release Saturday, just days after a French journalist was freed. 

Gerco van Deventer, 47, was kidnapped in Libya on November 3, 2017, on his way to a power plant construction site about 1,000 kilometers south of the capital, Tripoli. 

Three Turkish engineers seized at the same time were freed seven months later, but Van Deventer remained in captivity and was moved to Mali. 


“I’m launching a fresh appeal … we desperately need him home,” his wife, Shereen van Deventer, told AFP. 

“He’s a father of three children,” she added, referring to their children ages 12 to 18 years. 

His parents, in their 80s miss him, so do his siblings, she said. 

“I miss him. It’s time, it’s been too long,” she said.  

“It’s a difficult situation for us as a family, we would really ask for … their (captors’) compassion to release him,” she pleaded speaking from the small town of Swellendam, 220 kilometers east of Cape Town. 

Van Deventer, an emergency paramedic who was working for a security company, is the only South African citizen held hostage by a non-state actor in the Sahel, according to his wife. 

Shereen van Deventer’s fresh call for his release came after French journalist Olivier Dubois, 48, and American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, 61, kidnapped in 2021 and 2016 respectively, were freed. 

Van Deventer, 39, said Dubois’s “release certainly provides us with renewed hope for Gerco’s release.  

In his post-release interview with Radio France Internationale, Dubois said he had spent slightly more than a year with van Deventer in captivity. 

“He’s in his sixth year. He doesn’t deserve this, he needs to go home,” Dubois said. 

There was flurry of negotiations for his release during the first few years after his kidnapping, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on those efforts until early this year, said his wife. 

A spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry told AFP: “Negotiations are still ongoing, we are trying to get him out.” 

Imtiaz Sooliman, head of a influential South African Muslim charity, Gift of the Givers, which is also involved in mediation for his release, told AFP that a negotiator would be travelling to Mali in the next few days “to appeal to the kidnappers.” 

The charity helped in efforts to secure the 2017 release of Stephen McGown, another South Africa held by al-Qaida in Mali for nearly six years. 

The Sahel has been ravaged by a jihadi campaign that began in northern Mali in 2012, sweeping into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015. 

Kidnappings of foreigners and Malians are common.

Voice of America

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