The Struggle for the Liberation of South Sudan: The Memoirs of a Veteran Participant
by Daniel Koat Mathews
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Daniel Koat Mathews chronicles his life’s struggle to find peace and liberation for the nation of South Sudan in The Struggle for the Liberation of South Sudan: The Memoirs of a Veteran Participant.
As a newly formed nation, stricken by internal conflict, the Republic of South Sudan continues its struggle. This nation, that for over 200 years suffered at the hands of a roulette wheel of oppressors, has yet to find the peace so longed for by its people.
What began as a violent uprising against the controlling Northern Sudanese during the 1950’s in the name of liberation, has devolved into an attack on the very people it was supposed to liberate. The endless blame-mongering and targeting of certain ethnic groups (over 60 known), continues the unnecessary bloodshed that its people endure today.
While growing up in the South Sudan, Daniel Mathews finds himself to be a political front-runner in the name of peace and liberation.
Witnessing his nation being handed over to North Sudan in 1947, Daniel decides that freedom is the only option for his people. He becomes a natural leader for his fellow students, inspiring nationalistic pride and desire for change.
However, as with all revolutionaries, Mathews becomes the target of discrimination. He was expelled from school only to be rescued by the loyalty of his friends and peers. In order to make a point, they endured beatings, the same punishment as he.
The South Sudanese never had any desire to be under the control of North Sudan. It was an artificial and unjust arrangement inflicted upon them. These feelings culminated in the Torit Uprising (August 18, 1955).
This violent beginning, on the path to liberation, was experienced firsthand by Daniel while on a school sponsored trip. There, he witnessed the seething hatred towards the Northern Sudanese, as his school’s Assistant Headmaster (and newborn child), were brutally murdered by young South Sudanese revolutionaries.
Despite intense efforts on part of the North Sudanese government to imprison and demean Daniel Mathews, his will only grows stronger. Rising to eventually become the first Governor of the Upper Nile Region, Daniel continued to prove his passion for liberation of his homeland. Even to this day, Daniel has yet to give up on the people of South Sudan.
"It was at Lainya junction on the way to Juba and Yei, where we arrived at 17:30 hours on 19 August 1955, where the worst happened. Our convoy was stopped and surrounded by a frenzied armed mob, accompanied by a local chief. Armed youths descended on the station wagon and dragged out the Deputy Headmaster and murdered him. I was sitting beside the Geography Master, who was speared in the ribs while he was still in the truck and dragged out to be stabbed repeatedly until he died.
We the students were by now badly shaken, but tried to save our Deputy Headmaster’s wife and two boy children. We interceded for them, pleading with the chief to prevent their being harmed. The chief brushed our pleading aside insisting that the mother of the two children and the children themselves must be executed, for there should be no mercy shown to people from North Sudan who had been enslaving and slaughtering our people for so long. It was now time for total revenge against the Arabs, he said. In the commotion and confusion, a young man suddenly snatched the baby from its frightened mother’s arms and tossed it into the branches of a mango tree. I was shaken and terrified, but the horror of what was happening revolted me so much that I was inspired with courage to confront the brutal young man who had tossed the baby boy into the branches of the mango tree. I told him what he had done was unforgivable under God’s law.
Then attention turned to our Sports Master who was also trying to protect the widow of our recently murdered Deputy Headmaster. He became the target of anger, with the chief charging that he was in fact a black Arab. He should be executed immediately, ordered the chief. We were now faced with the urgent need to protect our fellow African sports master. What seemed to arouse this mob’s suspicion and hostility was the fact that our sports master, although a Dinka, hadn’t had his lower teeth removed as is the Dinka custom. But the man spoke fluent Dinka! We pleaded for his life, reminding the chief that a horrible thing had already been done—killing in cold blood our very teachers who symbolized, and should be treated like, our parents. He should not allow the destruction of any other life. We urged him to believe that our sports teacher was a genuine Southern Sudanese man—a Dinka by tribe. The chief said he had to prove that he was indeed a Dinka by speaking in that language. And so our sports teacher held out in fluent Dinka. The chief was still not convinced and ordered the sports master to sing a Dinka dance song and dance to it. And this is what our sports master did before our frightened eyes to obtain a reprieve.
The positive outcome of this macabre drama was that the blood-thirsty fury of the mob and their chief abated, and the lives of our late Deputy Headmaster’s wife and her six-year-old son were spared. To our horror we had watched the baby succumb to the injuries it had sustained from the fall from the mango tree to whose branches it had been tossed. We now pleaded that the chief place the woman and the boy in our hands so that we could assist them any way we could. We could not underestimate the horrible fate that would befall them if we didn’t make fast decisions. We requested the chief’s permission to spirit the woman and her child out of the Sudan into the territory of Belgian Congo. This country, which would later become the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zaire, was then a colony of Belgium. The chief gave us his permission. And a team of us, including our sports master, escorted the unlucky widow and her son to Abba border post at the Sudan-Congo border, where they were taken up by the Belgian Congo authorities.
I witnessed these events of August 1955—the beginning of the war of liberation by the South Sudanese people that would span more than half a century—when I was a young man of about twenty years old. How could I then have known that my longest, most traumatizing, two days—18 and 19 August 1955—would herald one of the longest liberation struggles in Africa: the South Sudanese liberation struggle? How could I then have imagined that the rage, the thirst for revenge and the horror of blood letting that I had personally witnessed in two fateful days would be multiplied a thousand times over the protracted period of half a century? And how could I have known then that white-hot rage and blood-thirsty revenge and blood letting and cold-blooded mercilessness are some of the faces of revolutions and wars of liberation?"
Daniel Koat Mathews: this is his story. These are the thoughtful reflections of a veteran freedom fighter and African nationalist on the triumphs, faliures, and tragedies of struggle. The memoirs conclude with poignant thoughts on the virtual civil war that has been going on in Independent South Sudan, pitting brother against borther, since December 2013.
Daniel Koat Mathews was born anytime between 1934 and 1937 in a cattle camp called Koat Mithiek, near the town of Nasir in the Eastern Nuer country of South Sudan. He spent his boyhood looking after sheep, goats, and calves like most of the boys of his Nuer people. He underwent the traditional Nuer rite of passage (the extraction of his lower teeth) to mark his transition from childhood to adolescence.
Early on in life, he became acutely aware of the reality of living under colonial rule in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan as well as the situation of international conflict wrought by the European imperial powers. He became aware of the War between the Allies and the Italian invaders of Ethiopia in the early 1940s, hiding among the reeds on the banks of the Sobat river as Italian bomber planes bombarded Jigmir.
On 18-19 August 1955, as a student of Rumbek Secondary School, Koat watched in horror as a frenzied mob of South Sudanese Africans murdered his own Arab Geography teacher at Lainya. This was at the height of the Torit Uprising launched by South Sudanese elements of the Sudan army garrisoned at Torit in their protest against impending Independence which had been negotiated exclusively between the British colonial government and the North Sudan Arabs in blatant betrayal of South Sudanese interests.
The Anyanya South Sudanese Liberation Movement was born of the Torit Uprising. Daniel Koat Mathews would become a protagonist of that movement and, indeed, a prominent player in the liberation struggle, Sudanese politics, and history for more than half a century.
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