McGown angry his mother died before he was freed by his captives

Stephen McGown seated next to his wife Catherine, speaks at a press conference at the Gift of the Givers in Johannesburg. He was released by al-Qaeda after being held hostage in Mali for six years. / Alon Skuy.
Stephen McGown seated next to his wife Catherine, speaks at a press conference at the Gift of the Givers in Johannesburg. He was released by al-Qaeda after being held hostage in Mali for six years. / Alon Skuy.

A smiling and sometimes forgetful Stephen McGown made his first public appearance on Thursday after spending six years in captivity in Mali.

Speaking at a media conference in Johannesburg‚ McGown apologised for not giving “good enough” answers and being “wishy washy” because he is still confused.

McGown admitted that he was angry that his mother had died while he remained incarcerated in Mali.

“I’m angry about my mother. We missed each other by two months. I’m angry about it.”

“I try to see the best in everything. This is one thing I am finding hard to understand‚” he said.

At the time of Beverly McGown’s death in May‚ the family had said stress and anxiety over Stephen’s fate had caused her death.

Stephen McGown did not want to come home a 'mess'Stephen McGowan did not want to return home to South Africa a “mess” after being held hostage for six years. 

McGown had heard of his mother’s death two weeks ago when he arrived in South Africa.

“I suspected that my mother may have passed on‚” he said‚ explaining that he received a letter from the South African government which alluded to her ill health.

The letter had been written in August last year but he had only got it in December.

“This was a letter...asking for compassion‚ mentioning that my mother was critically ill.”

Accompanied by his father Malcolm and his wife Catharine‚ McGown spoke of the harrowing conditions he and other captives lived under‚ including being chained and blindfolded by the Al-Qaeda operatives who kidnapped him in 2011.

He was abducted while seated in a restaurant in Timbuktu. He was travelling through Mali by motorcycle at the time.

His experience in Mali was not all bad‚ McGown said‚ as he and other captives were fed and clothed.

“I was looked after well‚ but you always knew you were a prisoner. You always knew you were at the bottom of the food chain‚” he said.

Relating the story of how he was released on July 21‚ McGowan said he did not believe it when he was told he was free.

“After a lot of driving. The driver turned to me and said‚ ‘you are free. You can go’.”

“They kidnapped me because I was just not Muslim.”

“I was told if you are Muslim you can go anywhere in the world...doesn’t matter what colour you are and what language you speak.

Despite the horrific experience of being a prisoner‚ McGown said he has learnt a lot‚ including converting to Islam.

“I see many good things in Islam. I see many things that don’t make sense‚” he said.

 

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