It’s impossible to fathom the fear one must feel when being help captive by al-Qaeda, so it’s no surprise that Stephen McGown is wearing a pretty big smile on his face now that he is on back on home soil.
He was held for just shy of six years by the terrorist organisation, and admits to doubting that he would ever be a free man again.
During his media briefing yesterday he had everyone glued to their seats, describing life as a hostage in Mali.
Kidnapped back in November 2011, McGown was on a biking holiday at the time. Some of his more memorable quotes via News24:
“It’s difficult to actually comprehend. By this stage you have had so many ups and downs. You are not sure who to believe. In the end you just don’t want to really believe. You are tired of coming down with a bang after being told you would be released,” he said…
He explained how he lived in a hut which he had built with one blanket to keep warm on cold and rainy days.
However after he converted to Islam of his own accord, he said he started receiving more favourable treatment from his captors.
“They treated me well. However you always knew that you were a prisoner. You were at the bottom of the food chain. If you walked 50 m too far, they were aware of it.”
He said after converting, the man holding him captive would wash his clothes and serve him the good part of the meat, however he was always aware that he was in prison.
“The winds in winter were absolutely freezing. We had one blanket… the thunder storms were not my favourite… During the day it’s not a problem so much but at night it’s a problem… It’s extreme.”
He said he did not want to come home angry and resentful.
“I did my best to see the best in a bad situation in a difficult time. I did not want to come home angry and a burden to my family. I try and see the best of that situation.”
Sadly his mother passed away five months before he was released, and he became emotional when talking about how he had hoped he would be released in time to see her before she passed.
There were some uplifting moments, such as when his father praised the work of Gift of the Givers, who had been involved in negotiating his release for a number of years:
“I cannot believe how many people have supported me and my family.”
McGown said his body has been in a state of shock since his return.
“I have been eating rice and pasta. Anything beyond that is a shock to the body. Having been back here, I have had heavy headaches and I suffer from back pain.”
He said this may be because of his body adjusting to the climate.
McGown’s father Malcolm praised Gift of the Givers, saying had it not been for them his son would have been there for another five years.
Malcom said he approached Gift of the Givers because he was stonewalled by the South African government.
Here’s the full media briefing – you can hear him describe his capture around the 17:40 mark: