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Don't lose hope - former hostage's message to Shiraaz Mohamed

Shiraaz Mohamed has been seized by unknown gunmen in Syria.
Shiraaz Mohamed has been seized by unknown gunmen in Syria.

Freed hostage Yolande Korkie has offered encouragement to SA photographer Shiraaz Mohamed, as negotiations continue to secure his release.

Korkie, together with her husband Pierre, was kidnapped in the Yemen city of Taiz in May 2013, triggering a horrendous journey as a hostage, a ransom demand of R30m and being in constant fear for their lives.

Yolande Korkie, photographed while making a plea for the (ultimately unsuccessful) release of her husband Pierre.
Yolande Korkie, photographed while making a plea for the (ultimately unsuccessful) release of her husband Pierre.

She was released after Gift of the Givers' office manager in Yemen Anas al-Hamati negotiated her freedom in January 2014. However, Pierre was killed in December 2014 during a failed rescue attempt by US Special Forces.

"Please don't lose hope. Many people are praying for your release," Korkie said in her words of encouragement to Mohamed.

The photographer was captured in Syria on January 10 2017 in Darkoush, after travelling there to narrate the tragedy of the Syrian people to the world through pictures. He had arrived in Syria on January 4 that year.

This week, Gift of the Givers confirmed that it had received proof that Mohamed was still alive.

"It has taken two years and three months but finally, Gift of the Givers has received proof of life for Mohamed," the organisation's founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said this week.

In the video, dated April 13, 2019, a man identifying himself as Mohamed, says: "I live in fear of my life. I am scared. We are being bombed. The area that I am in is being bombed by the Russian air force. The bombs are getting closer and closer and closer. I need your help. Please help me."

Sharing her account of being held hostage in Yemen for eight months, Korkie, a lecturer at the University of the Free State, empathised with Mohamed.

"Being a hostage in a war zone raises stress levels even more. In our situation, drone activity/attacks were a constant reality and a mental challenge. We were living at death's doorstep most of the time.

"It was a torturous, exhausting and seemingly endless ordeal. It is one which nobody should go through."

The "seemingly endless" nature of the experience is also one of the cruellest any person can go through, she shared.

"Every minute as a hostage feels like a day and every day like a year. You desperately pray that tomorrow will come because maybe, maybe it will be the day of your release."

She said she and her husband kept a journal which provided mental stimulation and helped them keep track of the days.

Even after she was released by her captors, Korkie said she did not feel free because her husband had remained in captivity.

"I was on the other side of the coin and experienced how it had been for our children and families before I was released.

"Family members of a hostage are also hostages of the situation. Our lives could not continue. We were trapped in a vacuum of desperation and hoped and prayed that tomorrow would be the day the ordeal would end," Korkie recalled.

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