Yolande Korkie, left, and Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Yolande Korkie, left, and Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

A SOUTH African man kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen is alive, says disaster relief organisation The Gift of the Givers Foundation.

The militants had threatened to execute Pierre Korkie on Friday and send his head back to his family if they were not given $3m (about R32.5m) in exchange for his safe return.

"Pierre is alive," said foundation head Imtiaz Sooliman in a statement on Saturday.

"We have achieved a stay-in-execution for now. We have been granted a three-week extension (to raise the ransom)," said Mr Sooliman.

He said the militants had informed them that Mr Korkie was not in good health.

After no communication from the kidnappers for almost three days, Gift of the Givers contacted them on Friday night and arranged to meet with them, said Mr Sooliman.

Anas al-Hamati, an organisation representative based in Yemen, met the kidnappers at 4am on Saturday morning.

"The meeting was cordial and decent. We (the foundation) agreed to pursue further discussions in the days to come," said Mr Sooliman.

Mr Korkie and his wife Yolande were kidnapped in the city of Taiz in Yemen in May last year.

After extensive negotiations, Yolande was released without a ransom and returned to the country on Monday.

Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday, a frail Yolande begged the militants to release her husband.

"Al-Qaeda, I ask to address you. Thank you for releasing me and giving me back to our children, treating us with kindness and respect, and bringing my husband medicine... I’m asking you to release my husband," she said.

"We are asking you to show mercy, to please show tolerance."

The couple have been married for 20 years. At the time of the kidnapping, Mr Korkie was a teacher in Yemen, while his wife did relief work in hospitals.

It was believed the militants kidnapped the couple thinking they were US citizens.

Meanwhile, deputy minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim was scheduled to travel to Yemen on Saturday to discuss Mr Korkie’s kidnapping with the Yemeni government and interested parties.

"The South African government takes interest in the wellbeing and security of its citizens, including when they are in distress or danger in foreign countries," the statement said on Friday.

The department would, however, not be involved in the ransom talks and in any fundraising, saying it was against policy to pay off kidnappers as it was thought it would encourage militants to prey on South African citizens.

"Our policy is well-known to the public, that government does not negotiate or pay ransom to kidnappers," said department spokesman Nelson Kgwete.

"We are involved in efforts to free him through diplomatic channels," said Mr Kgwete.

There is no South African representation in Yemen, but the South African ambassador to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is accredited to Sana’a on a non-resident basis.

Yemen established an embassy in South Africa in 1996, while South Africa has appointed an honorary consul.

Mr Kgwete said on Friday the South African government had direct access to the Yemeni government through the embassy of Saudi Arabia, and due to state protocol was pursuing diplomatic means of resolving the hostage situation.