After countless attempts to secure the safe release of South African paramedic Gerco van Deventer, Gift of the Givers (GOTG) has announced the unconditional release of Van Deventer, described by the organisation as the longest-held South African in captivity.
AFTER countless attempts to secure the safe release of South African paramedic Gerco van Deventer, Gift of the Givers (GOTG) has announced the unconditional release of Van Deventer, described by the organisation as the longest-held South African in captivity.
The relief organisation announced the release of Van Deventer on Sunday. Van Deventer was kidnapped in Awbari, Libya, on November 3, 2017 and sold to Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), the Sahelian branch of al-Qaeda in Mali in 2018.
Gift of the Givers founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said: “Gift of the Givers, at the request of the family, got involved in 2018, made contact with JNIM, whom we dealt with for the release of Stephen McGown, Johan Gustafsson, Christo Bothma and connected many negotiators from various countries to them on behalf of multiple hostages.”
The initial demand for Van Deventer was $3 million (R55m) and over a period of time this was negotiated down to $500 000, he said. Neither the organisation nor the government pays any ransom for the release of hostages.
“Having no ransom to pay for Gerco and no further leverage, negotiations stalled and eventually with Covid-19 went cold completely until January 2023 when one of our intermediary contacts in Mali requested us to restart the process. We had nothing new to offer. Nevertheless, we tried again,” Dr Sooliman said.
GOTG hostage negotiator Mohamed Yahya Dicko, a South African of Malian origin, had left for Mali in April to negotiate for the release of Van Deventer. Negotiations resumed after a video was sent in January in which a long-bearded Van Deventer pleaded for assistance for his release. In the video, he said he would not be released until the ransom was paid, pleading to any governments to make the payment so that he could be reunited with his family.
He mentioned several health problems, including the inability to control his blood sugar levels.
Two videos, one made by Van Deventer’s wife and another by his son, were sent to the intermediaries for his captors’ attention during the holy month of Ramadaan, as a compassionate plea for his unconditional release.
At the time, his wife, Shereen van Deventer, told the Cape Argus that her husband was kidnapped on his way to the Awbari Powerplant where he was due to work as a site paramedic.
“Sometime after the release of three Turks that were kidnapped with him, the reports are that he was then sold to the group in Mali that are currently keeping him captive… The kidnappers shared a video with the intermediary from Gift of the Givers early in January this year.”
On December 5, the organisation received a call from an unknown individual in Mauritania who said they were working on his release and late on Saturday night a trusted intermediary called to say Van Deventer had been released into Algeria.
“He could not be released through Mali, apparently because of the current war between the Mali military and the Tuaregs. The man from Mauritania had requested a release via the Mauritania State Security. They refused. Eventually, they chose the route of Algeria to which the State Security agreed.
“South African State Security confirmed (on Saturday night) that Algerian State Security called to inform them that Gerco is free, is with them and was taken to hospital for a health review.
“We await the next step on his health and arrangements to bring him home to be reunited with wife Shereen and son Asher. It has been six agonising years of prayer, patience and hope. May Gerco return home soon, safely.”
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the department would not be commenting on the matter.