Celebrating South Sudan

'When the new flag was raised, one bishop raised his hands to God, giving him the glory'

South Sudan 521 (photo credit: Charmaine Hedding)
South Sudan 521
(photo credit: Charmaine Hedding)
From Juba to Tel Aviv, South Sudanese joyously celebrated their independence on July 9, as the new nation officially ceded from the Islamist north and began rebuilding a homeland scarred by decades of civil war.
The Republic of Southern Sudan gained its freedom last month as a result of a referendum held in January, when 99 percent of the 3.9 million voters, mainly Christians and animists, approved a breakaway from the Islamist regime in Khartoum. The move split in two Africa’s largest nation, with the east-west border running through an area rich with oil deposits – a recipe for possible renewed conflict.
Even before Sudan gained its independence in the 1950s, the Christian population of the south feared that independence from Great Britain would only give way to another source of control – that of the Muslim Arab north.
The enmity between the Muslim north and Christian/animist south produced a long, bitter conflict which plagued the country for over six decades. Over time this civil war left nearly two million South Sudanese dead, while another four million were displaced, many ending up refugees scattered across the globe.
Therefore, when the decree of independence was read aloud in the capital of Juba and Salva Kir Mayardit was sworn in as the country’s new president, South Sudanese in the land and those dispersed all around the world joined in jubilant celebrations over their long-awaited freedom.
In Israel, the South Sudanese community of over 2,000 refugees thronged the streets near Tel Aviv’s busy central bus station to proudly mark the festive occasion. Revelers were dressed in T-shirts featuring a map of the newly created state as well as its new black, red, green and blue flag emblazoned with a yellow Star of Bethlehem.
In a Sudanese restaurant in Tel Aviv, Southerners watched live broadcasts from Juba on a big screen. They eagerly followed every step of the ceremony in an atmosphere which blended relief, hope and happiness. Smoke from various flavors of shisha highlighted the Sudanese cuisine on offer.
Meanwhile, a telephone call to Juba gave a live picture of events at groundzero for the celebrations. Charmaine Hedding, a Christian activist who has been assisting South Sudanese refugees in Israel in recent years, had decided to fly in and experience the historic moment firsthand. Also on hand were such dignitaries as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, senior US diplomat Susan Rice and the crown prince of Norway.
“It is absolutely amazing! The streets in Juba are covered with people celebrating like never seen before,” she told The Christian Edition. “People are out on the streets with Sudanese flags everywhere… It is vibrating! “Every tribe is singing and dancing in their traditional costumes,” she continued. “The people are exuberant, overflowing with excitement and happiness. At the moment when they read the declaration and lowered the old Sudanese flag only to raise the new flag of the Republic of South Sudan, the stadium erupted. That was the moment; to see that flag flying high in the sky was spectacular.”
The celebrations were especially sweet for Hedding, who has spent the past five years helping desperate South Sudanese refugees infiltrating Israel from Egypt.
Under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and later CBN’s Operation Blessing, she has spearheaded the effort within Israel to win fair treatment for this struggling community, finding them work, housing and schools for the children.
Hedding has also liaised with Israel’s Foreign Ministry to pioneer a repatriation program that has already seen some 600 Sudanese refugees returned to their homeland on flights from Ben-Gurion Airport. With Southern Sudan now on its own, Israeli officials are hopeful that more refugees will now return home to help build the new nation.
Churches in South Sudan have already had an important role in birthing the new state, according to Hedding, who has made numerous visits to Juba over the past half-decade.
“The churches have been very fundamental to the emergence of Southern Sudan, which is largely a Christian nation,” she explained. “When the new flag was raised, one bishop raised his hands to God, giving Him the glory. That was for me a very powerful moment. I was standing behind him, and you could see that he was really praising the Lord.
“People were ecstatic! One woman beside me broke down crying. It was all very emotional, and at the same time people kept calling South Sudan weyee, a term encapsulating the feeling of progress, hope and development for the new nation. The people are still just deliriously happy, flags are flying and you can even get the new national anthem of South Sudan as a ringtone on your phone,” Hedding said.
In a strange twist, the independence ceremony was also attended by President Omar Bashir, the head of the radical Islamist regime in Khartoum who inflicted so much pain on the South and now has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for overseeing the genocide and ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur. In an uncomfortable but welcomed goodwill gesture, the Muslim strongman had come to give his blessing to the secession of the South.
It remains unclear whether Bashir will now allow quiet along the agreed border area, where Muslim militias from the north have carried out numerous cross-border attacks in recent months in hopes of seizing much of the region’s lucrative oil fields.
Back in Tel Aviv, the celebrations continue into the next day. Hundreds of proud South Sudanese are on hand once again. One native of South Sudan who has been living in Israel for almost two years said he felt like it was his birthday.
Later in the afternoon, after a parade of artists, dancers and speakers have entertained the crowd, overjoyed natives of the world’s newest state are still waving their flags and dancing to the tunes of African musicians Extra Musica and Koffi Olomide. Two revelers, Marko Domaso and Luca Vito, have come all the way up from Eilat to Tel Aviv to take part in the once-in-alifetime celebrations.
“I haven’t slept for two nights. It feels like a dream,” said Domaso. “I could never have imagined this. We have been waiting for our own state for over 50 years.”
Domaso called his family on independence day to congratulate them for having managed to stay faithful to their ancestral home and never leave, unlike himself, despite wars and conflicts.
“The time for development has come,” he added. “It’s easy to destroy, but now we have to learn how to build. With unity and love, the country can grow and the people can finally live in peace.”
Amid all the jubilation, a stream of nations began announcing their official recognition of the new state of Southern Sudan. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu soon joined in by granting recognition to the new republic.
“We wish it success. This is a peaceseeking country and we would be pleased to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and its prosperity,” he said.
On July 14, the United Nations General Assembly admitted the new country as a member state. Contrary to the upcoming Palestinian statehood bid in September, the Republic of Southern Sudan has the backing of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which assured its admission to the family of nations. •