July 20, 2012 (WAU) - South Sudan is preparing to celebrate its seventh anniversary of Martyrs Day on July 30, in celebration and recognition of those who died during the 1983-2005 Sudanese civil war, especially South Sudan’s former leader, John Garang.
Until a peace deal seven years ago southern rebels - the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) - fought against various Khartoum governments. South Sudan seceded just over a year ago, with the SPLA becoming the country’s army and its the political wing - the SPLM - its ruling party.
Around two million people are estimated to have died in the civil war. Garang led the SPLA through the conflict and became Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, which was granted autonomous status under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
However, just days after being sworn in, Garang’s helicopter crashed while travelling back to South Sudan from Uganda. His deputy, Salva Kiir, took up Garang’s official positions.
Major General Andrea Dominic, who leads the SPLA’s fifth division told Sudan Tribune on Friday that "30th July is important in our history. It is day on which we lost a great leader."
Officials in South Sudan’s Western Bahr El Ghazal State say the final touches are being made to their preparations.
“Preparations are almost completed", Dominic said, adding that the organising committee was left with just small details to complete.
"They are getting new names of our martyrs from their family members and relatives so that they are added on the list we have collected so far”, Dominic said.
Although the main event will be held in Juba, the capital of the newly formed independent state of South Sudan, activities marking the day will be held across the country.
The day would also be used "to remember all those who died while fighting for liberation of this country" the SPLA General said.
"So we take this opportunity to urge all government departments, the private sector and local communities to initiate activities that are aimed at informing people to mark the day dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for the cause of our freedom throughout the country."
The senior military officer said top level military officers would take part in the day, starting with President Salva Kiir Mayardit in Juba, his deputy Riek Machar Teny, the Speaker of the National Assembly, State governors, ministers, deputy ministers, and members of parliament including community leaders and workers down to individual family members and relatives.
He explained that July 30 is attended by all groups in South Sudan so they are able to come together to share war related experiences.
“They would all embark on activities such as educating children particularly those at the higher learning institutions to know the role played by our people so that it is recorded and taught to our children.
He said citizens of South Sudan and in particular Western Bahr el Ghazal State, are encouraged to dedicate some of their time in order to mark Martyrs Day, during which officials will talk about the values and principles for which South Sudanese took up arms to fight Khartoum.
However, South Sudan’s authorities have been criticised for not living up to, once in government, the principles fought for in the two-decade conflict.
On the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence Garang’s widow, Rebecca Nyandeng said that the young nation was still in a state of confusion after the death of her husband in 2005.
She admitted that she resided in Juba to avoid people asking her why the government was not providing services and security.
Corruption is one of South Sudan’s biggest internal problems with around $4 billion estimated to have been stolen since 2005. President Kiir recently wrote to 75 suspected officials asking them to return the money in exchange for anonymity and an amnesty from prosecution.
"We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people," the 3 May letter reads.
No official has been taken to court for corruption since the SPLM came to power in 2005 but Kiir emphasised that "corruption has no place in my government". He also denounced their selfishness while the South Sudanese are suffering from poverty and lack of basic services and infrastructure.
The SPLM/SPLA has also been accused of betraying the freedom, democracy and human rights that were the stated aims of the two-decade civil war.
Human rights reports regularly criticise South Sudan’s security services and attacks against the press have been documented by press freedom groups.
On the eve of South Sudan’s first anniversary of independence a leading civil society activist, Deng Athuai, was found severely beaten and left by the side of the road after a three day ordeal. It is not known who was responsible but activists suspect the security services were responsible.
Athuai had been leading a civil society campaign against corruption.