The 42-year-old was captured along with two other foreign tourists by al-Qaeda linked militants at a restaurant in Mali in 2011.
Speaking after his release, Stephen McGown said that if he had been British it would have been "first prize".
A British-South African captive who was held hostage by the terrorist group al-Qaeda for almost six years, said he entered captivity as a Christian but in time converted to Islam - for which he received better treatment.
He was released with Swede Johan Gustafsson, 42, and in their first appearance since freedom, the pair said they were not clear whether any ransom was paid for their release. "I hope they let me out because they were exhausted of me". South Africa's government has said it paid no ransom.
"I did my best to see the best in a bad situation", McGown said, looking in good health and smiling regularly despite recently suffering from severe fever, headaches and meningitis.
The state says it does not pay ransoms for hostages, but other non-governmental groups were also involved in talks with the extremists and may have paid.
He was also still coming to terms with the news that his mother had died while he was being held hostage.
Mr McGown also paid tribute to his mother, who died in May, saying she was "an unbelievable lady and I can imagine the difficulties she went through".
But Imtiaz Sooliman said the extremists' initial demands started at 10 million euros (£9 million) per captive.
McGown, with a long beard and hair, said he had been better treated after converting to Islam, and was given better clothing and food.
Sweden has insisted it never paid any ransom and that Mr Gustafsson's release was obtained through negotiations.
"Before the desert, I was a Christian".
He added that his captors thought that US President Donald Trump would draw more Muslims to fight against the West. I entered [Islam] of my own accord.
McGown described being "in the dark" to wider world events while imprisoned, with minimal communication and no English books around him.