Freed hostage, Stephen McGown spoke to the press for the first time on Thursday… revealing that although he tries to look on the positive for everything, he cannot yet understand what the positive is in having lost his mom while he was away.
“It’s life. It’s the way it is. I try and see the best in everything but that is one thing I don’t understand. I can’t see much good in not seeing my mother. All other things, I can try and find positives in them.”
He said he suspected she may have passed away. “Last year in December, I received a letter from the South African government asking for my compassionate release. This letter was addressed to the mujahideen asking for compassion, mentioning that my mother was critically ill and may pass away. They gave the letter to me to read, they did not know what was in the letter. I think they were expecting to cheer me up. I only found out that my mother had passed just ten minutes before getting home with my father…”
In a moving, emotional and inspirational press conference – with his wife Catherine on one side and his father Malcolm on the other – he also said he had lost some friends and other family members… since he was captured by Al Queda in 2011.
Stephen said he had no idea that George Michael and David Bowie had passed away, although he was aware of Frank Sinatra’s passing.
Before the kidnapping, Stephen was a Christian… but says during his time as a hostage he converted to Islam. “I wasn’t forced into Islam, but I see many good things in Islam,” he said, and admitted that those who had converted to Islam were treated differently and prioritised.
Stephen said he wasn’t optimistic this time when they said he was to be released because he’d heard it before over the last six years.
The thing he missed most, he said, was “freedom”. He also missed chocolate
During the media briefing, he described life in the Sahara, saying “in winter the nights are cold, the days are great. The day is not a problem. You build your hut out of grass and sticks. You may have some cloth that you put on top of it. It’s pretty comfortable.”
He said it was very strict and if an aeroplane came over, they had to lie down, “become invisible”.
Stephen was kidnapped with two other tourists by Islamist militants in Mali in November 2011. A fourth tourist was killed during the kidnapping. Stephen was released on 29 July 2017.
Stephen McGown describes the moment he became a free man
Stephen McGown on the loss of his mom while he was held hostage:
— eNCA (@eNCA) August 10, 2017
— Karyn Maughan (@karynmaughan) August 10, 2017
Stephen McGown speaks about loss and fear during his hostage life
— Bandile (@bandileDfighter) August 11, 2017
— eNCA (@eNCA) August 11, 2017