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'I got tired of believing'

Stephen Mcgowan has described how he found himself alone and doubting that he would ever be freed.

Stephen McGown (centre) makes his first public appearance since being released by al-Qaeda in Mali. Picture: Hitekani Magwedze/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - In his first public appearance since his release from captivity in Mali, Stephen McGowan has described how he found himself alone and doubting that he would ever be freed.

McGowan returned home last week after almost six years.

He had been abducted by al-Qaeda militants from a Timbuktu hotel.

McGowan is currently addressing a press briefing in Johannesburg organised by aid organisation Gift of the Givers which was instrumental in negotiations to release him.

He says he got tired of believing.

“They then called me over and said well, you may not know but your fellow prisoner he’s now been released, he’s gone back to Sweden. Hopefully, you’ll be going home soon. I said I’ve heard this story many times. There have been so many ups and downs over the last five and a half years, you’re not sure who you can believe and who you can’t believe.”

CONVERSION TO ISLAM

McGowan has thanked South Africans for the overwhelming support shown to him and his family.

He converted to Islam during his captivity but he says he came to his faith of his own accord and not because his captors forced him to.

“I’m a God-fearing person so I do believe. They did not force me to enter into Islam. I see many very good things in Islam, many things that I like. I’ve learned everything in Arabic, so I probably have big gaps in my knowledge. I see many good things in Islam but I see also many things that do not make sense to me. So I will continue reading up.”

As McGowan grapples with life outside captivity, he's described the death of his mother as the biggest blow for him.

He was abducted along with Swedish national Johan Gustafsson and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke at a hotel in Timbuktu in 2011.

Rijke was released in 2015 while Gustafsson was freed in June.

McGowan, flanked by his wife and father as well as Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman has thanked those who supported him and his family throughout their ordeal.

WATCH: Stephen McGowan makes first public appearance

(Edited by Zinhle Nkosi)