President Jacob Zuma played a pivotal role in the freeing of convicted South African mercenary Niek du Toit and his four accomplices from a notorious Equatorial Guinea prison.
Du Toit last night said that it was by God’s grace and the intervention of the South African government, as well as international pressure, that they were going home.
He said that while the group, who now had 24 hours to get out of Equatorial Guinea, knew that Zuma was involved in the negotiations for their presidential pardon, they did not know what the negotiations entailed.
“We are in the dark about that. We do not know what went on behind the closed doors or for how long they have been negotiating.
“We are just glad that we are going home. This has been a dream of mine for years and I cannot wait to hold and see my family again.
“While we have been preparing ourselves for this, it is still hard to believe that we are actually coming home,” he said, adding that they were all doing well, were in high spirits and enjoying being free.
“It is true that Zuma might have discussed the plight of the prisoners when he visited the country last year, before he became president. But I am not privy to that discussion, so I cannot confirm that. I can’t rule out the possibility that they may have discussed it.
“Whether that translates into lobbying for their release, I can’t say. But I am not ruling out that possibility.
“And we certainly do welcome the gesture shown by the Equatorial Guinea government. We understand that humanitarian grounds were a factor, especially in the case of Mann, because of his illness with cancer.”
When it was put to him that it seemed too coincidental that the men were released on the day Zuma arrived in the country, he said: “It’s possible that the government of Equatorial Guinea had believed it needed to release them on the eve of President Zuma’s visit.
“But that was not a condition from our side, to say they must do that on the eve of the visit. We do believe it satisfies the legal provisions of Equatorial Guinea.
“We would not dictate to another sovereign country on how to apply its law. They tried and sentenced these men. But if they decide they want to release them, we have no problem with that.”
Also freed were South Africans Sergio Cardoso, Jose Domingos and George Alerson.
Zuma flew to the oil-rich country yesterday on a scheduled one-day trade visit shortly after the release of the five men.
The five were among a group of 70 men who planned to overthrow Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in the failed coup in 2004.
Sixty-two of the accused, including Mann, a former British SAS soldier – who, apart from cancer, is believed to be suffering from other serious illnesses – were arrested at Harare International Airport moments after landing there to buy weapons and equipment.
Du Toit, Cardoso, Domingos and Alerson were arrested on Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island.
Du Toit, who admitted to his role in the coup, was sentenced to 34 years’ imprisonment, while Cardoso, Domingos and Alerson were sentenced to 17 years’ jail each.
Mann was extradited from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea shortly after his fellow plotters were freed from Chikurubi Prison in Zimbabwe, after serving only portions of their prison sentences.
South Africa’s embassy in Malabo was last night working to repatriate the four South Africans, reports Sapa-AFP.
The four were released into the custody of the embassy yesterday, the Ministry of International Relations and Co-operation said.
“The embassy officials, working together with the families of the four, are in the process of facilitating their return to South Africa,” the ministry said.
Pic: President Jacob Zuma of SA