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HEARTACHE & HOPE

Third video of SA hostage Gerco van Deventer released by Malian captors

Third video of SA hostage Gerco van Deventer released by Malian captors
Gerco van Deventer was kidnapped in Libya while working as a contracted paramedic in 2017. (Image: Supplied)

Gerco van Deventer has been held by al-Qaeda in northern Africa for more than five years. In the most recent video, the South African paramedic called for help to ‘gain what was taken from me: freedom and liberty’.

A third proof-of-life video of Gerco van Deventer, held captive for more than 2,000 days in northern Mali, was released on Friday, 26 May to the philanthropic organisation Gift of the Givers. On 9 April, the group sent representative Mohamed Yehia Dicko to negotiate with the extremist group, Jnim – a coalition of al-Qaeda-aligned groups – for the Western Cape resident’s release.

The 50-second video is the first direct update from Van Deventer since March, and before Dicko entered negotiations.

“I am requesting urgent help and assistance to facilitate and activate any action that can lead to my release,” Van Deventer said in the video. 

“I do not know of my family’s whereabouts or their wellbeing. I am requesting any assistance to facilitate, help me, build a bridge to reach the outside world and to gain what was taken from me: freedom and liberty.”

In a statement, Gift of the Givers said: “Yehia is currently in Mali in discussion with intermediaries and important role players to influence the captors to release Gerco unconditionally.

“This is an extremely important week for the process as we pray and hope for the best. On 3 June, Gerco will have been in captivity for five years and seven months. No further comment at this time.”

The paramedic and father-of-three left South Africa for Libya in 2017 as a contracted medical worker. Five days into his stint, Van Deventer was captured in the oasis town of Awbari (Ubari) and sold to Jnim seven months later. He has been in Mali since.

Gift of the Givers is attempting to negotiate Van Deventer’s unconditional release. A ransom of R9-million was demanded by Jnim.

The organisation notably negotiated the release of Stephen McGown in 2017 on “compassionate grounds” after six years of captivity.

Shereen van Deventer, Gerco’s wife, received the video on Sunday via Gift of the Givers Founder, Imtiaz Sooliman. For the Van Deventer family, the proof-of-life videos and efforts to bring Gerco home provide hope.

“It was a surprise that we got another video,” Shereen said. She received the video out of the blue. “Then, obviously, you have the excitement after that. Then also, you realise that, wow, it’s looking good.”

Shereen and Gerco van Deventer before Gerco was taken hostage in 2016. The two have been married for eight years. (Photo: Supplied)

In the two previous videos released in January 2019 and last March, the paramedic revealed he had blood in his urine and had been shot in an arm. He described the March video as his “last hope”.

“It was much more encouraging to see this video. He’s clean, he has new clothes, he got a haircut, and in a lovely blue outfit. So those are all super positive,” Shereen said.

“But you don’t know how well he’s actually doing, and that’s the most uncertain part about all this.”

Several South African publications are spreading the word about Van Deventer’s plight. On 15 April, Gift of the Givers rallied more than 1,000 people in Pelican Park to call for his release.

“I’m an introvert, so [the media attention] has been overwhelming,” said Shereen.

“But I think it’s all very encouraging to know that people still want to know about Gerco and share his story. Until he comes home, the coverage will be encouraging to me.” DM

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