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Dirco grateful to Mali govt for assistance in McGowan release

The department says it cautions South Africans travelling to conflict regions around the world to inform government and family before leaving.

FILE: Swede Johan Gustafsson (L), South African Stephen McGowan (C) and Dutch national Sjaak Rijke (R) held captive by al-Qaeda. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – The International Relations Department says that relations between Mali and South Africa remain cordial despite the challenge of rescuing Stephen McGowan, who was held captive by terrorist group al-Qaeda in the West African country.

Dirco says the government will continue supporting the family.

McGowan is back on South African soil after his release from Timbuktu was finally secured at the weekend.

His family gave an emotional briefing on Thursday in Pretoria on their reunion with McGowan after six years of his absence.

The department says it cautions South Africans travelling to conflict regions around the world to inform government and family before leaving.

The department's Brian Dube says that they remain grateful to the administration of Mali for its assistance.

“Do inform government prior to their departure so that we can also provide advice prior to them going there because sometimes, we do have information about certain developments in these regions.”

Dube says a cordial relationship between South Africa and Mali is important.

“Without those good relations at the government, it would have been difficult really.”

McGowan’s family says they are relieved and grateful that he’s finally home.

MIRACLE

The family says they are relieved and grateful that he’s finally back on home soil, describing his return as a miracle.

McGowan’s wife, Catherine, says she never lost hope that he would come home.

Catherine McGowan says that over the years, the family fought a constant emotional battle, keeping hope alive, but having to deal with repeated disappointment.

She says it was wonderful to see Stephen again after six years.

“He came out, looked at me… and said wow your hair has grown and I said well actually your hair's longer than mine now.”

Catherine says throughout her husband’s ordeal, she stayed positive.

“You back on track again and you believe he’s coming home and then he doesn’t. But you still keep believing.”

McGowan’s father Malcolm says he’s happy his son has returned and has praised the president, government, NGOs and other organisations for their help in getting him back home.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)