Families plead for release of SA engineers held in Equatorial Guinea

South African engineer, Peter Huxham, and his colleague, Frik Potgieter, face a harrowing ordeal in Equatorial Guinea's Mongomo Prison.

South African engineer, Peter Huxham, and his colleague, Frik Potgieter, face a harrowing ordeal in Equatorial Guinea's Mongomo Prison.

Published Feb 8, 2024


The families of South African engineers Frederik Potgieter, 54, from George, and Peter Huxham, 55, from Langebaan, continued to call for their release from an Equatorial Guinea prison, as Friday marks one year since the two were detained.

Potgieter and Huxham were working for a Dutch company on an oil rig off the coast of Equatorial Guinea when they were arrested on charges of alleged drug trafficking at their hotel in Malabo on February 9 last year.

They were arrested the night before they were due to fly back to South Africa following a five-week work rotation, their families explained.

The families said they are being held in a prison reserved for political prisoners in Mongomo, having received a 12-year sentence, “damages” of $5 million (about R94m) each and additional fines to be shared between them, for drug offences.

“Their trial, marked by numerous irregularities, took place in June 2023.

The sentence and fines were based on outdated penalties for the alleged crimes, indicating an unsettling departure from the country’s new Criminal Code,” the families said.

The families maintain both Potgieter and Huxham’s innocence and say that although they worked for the same company for 11 and 15 years respectively, the men had not met prior to their arrest, as they were working on two separate vessels.

They believe that the seizure of the Vice-President Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue’s luxury villas in Cape Town and a super yacht called Blue Shadow strained relations between Equatorial Guinea and South Africa and may have played a factor in the matter.

In July last year, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) had expressed support for the families, and said it was “disturbed to learn of the sentence handed down to two South African nationals”.

At the time, Dirco said they were denied access to the men, in violation of international law.

The families said since then, Dirco’s consular desk has managed to arrange two visits to the men in the past year, and one call to each of their partners.

Another visit was arranged by the UK High Commissioner, where Huxham was granted a brief call to his life partner of 30 years, Kathy McConnachie, where he asked her to marry him.

The families believe the detentions are “arbitrary under the UN’s Human Rights law, (and) also a violation of the UN Hostage Convention”.

“It is time they are brought home, as it is now a year that has been ‘stolen’ from Peter and Frik’s lives on Earth with their families and friends.

“As the families, we are desperately looking to our government and the relevant departments, to use their expertise and position to engage with their counterparts in Equatorial Guinea, in order to bring home two innocent South Africans, and end the pain being experienced by them and their families and friends.

“They are hostages, their incarceration is not their fault, but even worse, there is nothing they can do to secure their own release – it is only the South African government who can do this,” the spokesperson for the Huxham family, Francois Nigrini, said.

Dirco and the embassy for Equatorial Guinea in South Africa did not respond to requests for comment by deadline on Wednesday.

Cape Times