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The 62nd anniversary of Torit popular uprising

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By Arop Madut Arop

As the people of the Republic of South Sudan mark and celebrate the 62nd anniversary of August 18th, 1955 Torit uprising, it would extremely be important to recall the events that ushered in the protracted armed struggle between the Sudan’s two regions. The object of that liberation struggle was for the people of South Sudan to achieve dignity, freedom and self-esteemed denied them for decades. When people mark an occasion like the 62nd anniversary of our armed resistance struggle, it is always natural to remember the huge sacrifices the pioneers of our political struggle under went in their fight to liberate their people. Besides reminding ourselves about the issues that surrounded South Sudan treacherous journey to peace and independence, this important occasion, is intended for the benefit of our younger people and future generations, who may not have lived the events described in this piece. Importantly, August 18th, the anniversary is very vital to celebrate because it marked the starting point for the people of the South Sudan long tedious and treacherous journey to permanent peace and prosperity. On the top of the martyrs that we should remember as we celebrate this important memorable occasion include: General Emidio Tafeng Lodongi, who was a lead organiser of the uprising, Corporal Saturnino Oboya who ignited the uprising and last but not least, Private Latada who single-handedly kept the liberation torch alight on the top of his Latada Hill outside Torit Town, until the entire South Sudanese people joined him and fought two wars to successful end. Below are excerpts which depict what happened on the 18th August over six decades ago (read more).

THE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

As the people of Sudan prepared themselves for political independence from Britain, a task force dubbed as the Sudanisation Commission was formed. The first issue beforethe Task Force was the Sudanisation of the civil administration and the armed forces as the British colonial authorities were preparing to hand over power to the Sudanese officials before they would leave the country they had ruled from 1898 hitherto.

Reportedly, following the formation of Sudan Transitional self-government in 1953, and the formation of the legislature in 1954, it became abundantly clear that Sudan was set toward political independence from Britain in three years ahead. In accordance to the 1961 self-government statute and the Cairo resolutions of 1952, a Sudanisation Committee was instituted tasked to speed up the process of handing over power to the Sudanese, both in the Army and in the civil service. This was to be done with immediate effect, long before the final departure of foreign personnel of the outgoing colonial regime from the country.

Immediately, the Sudanisation Committee was set up to start first with the public administration. This was done and when the results were announced the news was received with great disappointment in the three Southern provinces. This disappointment was better described and decried by Mr Grepory Deng Kiir, a merchant in Gogrial in Bahr al Ghazal Province, who said.

"Sudanisation has come with very disappointing results for the Southern Sudan……Well, as it appears, it means our fellows Northerners want to colonise us for another one hundred years". Because out of the 800 posts to be Sudanised, only six posts of four assistant District Commissioners and two local government Administrative Assistants went to the South. Mr Deng Kiir prophetic prediction has ever since been proven right. The people of Southern Sudan fought with their northern Sudan counterparts, for five decades before they got their fair share of the national cake, followed by the right to self-determination, which eventually led to the birth of their region as an independent state.

The second and most difficult contentious task that confronted the new Commander In Chief of the Sudan Defence Force, General Mohamed Hamed Hamad al Jaali was, apparently with tacit pressure from the new Sudanese transitional administration, about what to do with the Equatorial Corps the only force in the South; officered by British commanders and manned by South Sudanese.

Having Sudanised the top Brass in the Sudan Defence Force (SDF), it was expected that Sudanisation of the rest of the Commands of the army all over the Country, would be followed; phasing it out gradually and ending up in the South. But for their own reasons, the transitional authorities started in earnest with the sudanisation of the part of the Sudan Defence Force (SDF, the Equatorial Corps; formed in 1910, then consisting of 1,600 officers and men, stationed in Torit in the South Sudan The Equatorial Corps, reportedly, was commanded by a British Officer, Lieutenant Colonel, W.B.E. Brown who had replaced Colonel F.O. Cave, and eight British officers. What should be emphasised here is that, the change of the command of the Equatorial Corps would affect the events that would plague the country sooner than later.

The former commander of the Equatorial Corps, before retiring from the army and took a new assignment as Commandant of Police in Juba, Colonel Cave had recommended the commissioning of eight Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to the ranks of commissioned officers. The promoted NCOs that would later spearhead the Uprising in Torit included: Emideo Tafeng, Ali Gbatala, Nyang Dhieu, Albino Tombe, Madut Chan, Renaldo Oleya and Mandri Aba. It was for the first time since 1924, following attempted revolt by SDF headed by officers of southern origin, that southern Sudanese had been commissioned as officers in the Sudan Defence Force.

The new Sudanese Commander In Chief, General Mohamed al Jaali, gave orders for the British officers to hand over to the Sudanese Officers with immediate effect. Without delay, the Northern Sudanese officers; ignorant about the South and professionally inexperienced, were despatched to the South and took over the Equatorial Command with immediate effect. The change of the British Officers with the Sudanese did not mention any of the newly commissioned South Sudanese officers nor were these southern officers expectedly promoted. This was the first contributing cause that led to open opposition all over the South and which would later ignite the Torit Uprising as discussed below.

With apparent ulterior motives in mind, the transitional government, then in the hand of Sudanese authorities, sent northern troops to the south under the guise that they were going to prepare the troops from Equatorial Corps to take part in the celebration marking the evacuation of the foreign troops from the country before independence could be announced. The truth is that authorities had intended to transfer southern troops away from the South Sudan apparently to forestall any attempt to cause trouble as already evidenced by the events discussed here below.

The first contributing factor to the Torit Uprising was the Nzara and Yambio incidents. It has to be recalled that, in an apparent move to develop the South Sudan, the British Colonial administration belatedly started one agricultural scheme in Western Equatoria, known as the Equatoria Project Board (EPB) with its Equatoria Trading Division (ETD) in Juba.

Regrettably, instead of spreading many developmental projects in efforts to create employment all over the South Sudan; including the pastoralist economy of the Dinka, Nuer, Toposa and Mundari, Mr Tothill, Director of Agriculture, decided and founded in 1943 an agro-industry for self-sufficiency economy in the Zande land. The EPB thus became the only source of employment outside the government civil service in the South Sudan. Following the sudanisation of all the posts in the South, as discussed, the EPB and ETD were also sudanised. The British managers were replaced by Northern Sudanese to the resentment of the southern Sudanese employees who were recruited locally.

After the 1954, Juba Dance Hall meeting which charted a road map for the subsequent liberation of South Sudan, workers in Equatoria Project Board were apparently politicised. Indeed, it was a matter of time and the EPB authorities would act to reduce the workforce targeting the most politicised employees by weeding out the-would-be trouble-shooters. The alleged trouble-shooters were replaced immediately, with workers from the northern Sudan. who were now flocking to the South in droves.

The policy to weed out the future trouble-shooters among the Nzara factory workers; led to the dismissal of 300 workers by the Equatorial Project Board authorities in June 1955. An incident occurred when one of the workers was struck by the factory manager who was a northern Sudanese. In retaliation, the chief clerk was killed by the workers. The killing of the chief clerk was responsible for the dismissal of many more workers. The mass dismissal of Nzara workers led to the arrest of Hon Elia Kuze MP accused for having masterminded the unrest among, the EPB workers.

On July 26, the citizens of Nzara staged a mass demonstration against the dismissal of their fellow workers. In Yambio 12 miles east of Nzara, a mass demonstration was also staged in protest against the arrest of Hon Elia Kuze MP, resulting to the death of 17 people and hundreds wounded by the northern authorities. The ruthless suppression of the Nzara and Yambio demonstrations raised the first alarm about the increasing tension among the southerners all over the Southern provinces, against the incoming northern Sudanese authorities.

The report of Inquiry by the ministry of interior, into the causes of Southern Sudan Disturbance in 1956, blamed the Assistant District Commissioner of Yambio and Officer Commanding Troops in Nzara for mishandling the situation. The report added further that, the Assistant District Commissioner and the SDF Officer were very young and inexperienced people. The report further stated.” In any case, whether the situation was well handled or not, the incident itself had a bad effect on the minds of Southerners and was regarded by them as the beginning of war and if there was some confidence left in the administration, it had then disappeared completely.

Reportedly, the ruthless suppression of the Juba, Yambio and Nzara demonstrations and subsequent many unrests among the civil population against the impending Arab rule all over the South, the Southern Sudanese Members of Parliament in Khartoum on August 11th 1955 sent a highly politically charged protest letter to the Governor General Sir Helm, with a copy to the Prime Minister, Ismail al Azhari, condemning the maladministration in the southern provinces. The MPs protest letter was co-jointly signed by, Hon Benjamin Lowki MP, Hon Lino Tombe Lako MP, Hon Buth Diu, MP, Senator Paul Logale, Senator Bullen Alier de Bior and Senator Redento Onzi Koma.

In Wau another protest letter was sent by the Branch of the Liberal Party in Bahr al Ghazal to all Southern Members of Parliament in which they warned them about the increasingly deteriorating situation in the South as indicated by ruthless suppression of the Juba, Yambio and Nzara mass demonstrations, The Wau Liberal Party Branch letter specifically appealed to the Southern MPs to stand together as one solid bloc in the next session of Parliament due to convene on August 16th 1955.

The second contributing cause was a controversial Telegram purported to have been sent by the new Prime Minister Ismael al Azhari to the northern administrators who had already taken up all the posts vacated by the outgoing colonial officials. The telegram read:
"To all my administrators in the three southern provinces; I have just signed a document for self-determination. Do not listen to the childish complaints of southerners. Persecute them, oppress them, ill-treat them according to my orders. Any administrator who fails to comply to my orders will be liable to prosecution. In three months’ time, all of you will come round and enjoy the work you have done".

The Prime Minister alleged letter had also reached Corporal, the de jure leader of the underground movement in Equatorial Corps in Torit. Corporal Saturnino Oboya, who was also the president of the Liberal Party, in the Equatorial Corps, had succeeded to establish underground cells branches of the Liberal Party among the NCOs in Wau and Malakal Garrisons. The leaders of these underground cells were all sergeants with Lance Corporal, Saturnino Oboya as the co-ordinating leader. Having received the Prime Minister Alleged telegram, the chief organiser of the Uprising, Lance Corporal Sarturnino Oboya, Equatoria Corps Torit, reworded the telegram to read:. “To my Northern Officers in the Southern Corps instead of “To my administrators”.

Saturnino Oboya, on July 20th 1955 called for an urgent meeting with the leading members of his underground cells. Those who attended the meeting included: Lieutenant Emideo Tafeng Lodongi, sergeant Akec, sergeant Lataio, Sergeant Musa, Sergeant Luboyo, Sergeant Lumanyia and Corporal Lavota. In the meeting, Obama told the members that the telegram was true and that they in the army in the South must do something about it. All the members in the meeting reportedly agreed and sworn that if the government sent Northern Troops to the South and the troops mistreated Southerners they would retaliate to defend their people.

Corporal Oboya was apparently also in touch throughout his underground organisation with the leading members of the Liberal Party, such as Daniel June, Marko Rume, the Chairman of the Liberal Party, Mr Buth Diu and all members of parliament. Corporal Oboya was also in touch with Second Lieutenant Renaldo Oleya based in Juba.

The Third contributing cause which heightened the already boiling situation was the arrest of the Liberal Party officials in Juba, Daniel Jume Tongun and Marko Rume MP, by the northern District Commissioner who accused them for allegedly masterminding the public demonstration against the legal authorities and inciting racial hatred.

The fourth and immediate contributing factor, which sparked off the Uprising, was the arrest of the alleged Chief Conspirator Lance Corporal Saturnino Oboya, of the Equatorial Corps, based in Torit.

PRELUDE TO THE TORIT UPRISING

According to Corporal Saturnino Oboya, the Uprising should have started earlier on August 4th 1955 so as to pre-empt any move that the North may have taken, nipping it in the bud, so to speak. In line with his war plan, Corporal Oboya sent a telegram to 2nd Lieutenant Renaldo on August 3rd alerting all the underground cells to start the war without delay. Oboya telegram read:
"There is war tomorrow at five O’clock in the morning…You must treat this at the same time…Do not be late…send two platoons to Juba Airport and Mongalla Post tomorrow…Put this in mind…When this telegram was not replied, Corporal Oboya sent another telegram to second Lieutenant Renaldo the next day. In his latest telegram, he gave instructions about the progress of the war. The telegram reads:
“(A). You must capture Juba Aerodrome. (B) Capture the Ferry Boat AAA. Wait for my letter AAA. I am telling you the truth. Yourself you must take 2 platoons to Mongala post and you must send some lorry to collect all the company which is in Yambio. But Lt Renaldo Oleya who received the two telegrams refused to act. Instead he sent a telegram to Corporal Saturnino Oboya advising him to delay the action until the leader of the Liberal Party Hon Buth Diu MP arrived from Khartoum. Lt Renaldo telegram reads:
There is no matter AAA. Do not do anything now AAA. Wait for my letter AAA. Will reach you early tomorrow AAA Do not think of anything AAA. I am telling you the truth; do not do anything AAA.

When his orders were not heeded by Lieutenant Renaldo Oleya who preferred to wait for Buth Diu MP and other Liberal Party members from Khartoum and to see if Northern Troops were really going to shoot and kill southerners, Corporal Oboya, the actual leader of the Uprising, resigned his position as president of the Liberal Party in Torit on the 5th of August 1955.

Incidentally, Corporal Oboya had seriously propagated among senior NCOs in Torit and instigated them to kill their northern officers. But when his orders were not heeded Corporal Oboya decided to kill the Officer Commanding (OC) Troops in Torit, Kaimakam (Colonel) Salim. Corporal Oboya on impulse borrowed a bow and an arrow from a colleague by name Giovanni and looked for the Officer Commanding Troops. But when he failed to find the commanding officer, he shot with an arrow at the nearest northerner, the post master in Torit; but missed him.

After the shooting at the Post Master, Corporal Oboya was arrested. His accomplices in the plot in Malakal and Wau, all of them sergeants, were lured to Juba under pretext that they were going there to attend courses. Unfortunately, on arrival to Juba, who were already suspected, as ringleaders in their respective provinces, were immediately arrested and detained. The list containing the names of conspirators was found in the possession of Corporal Saturnino Oboya.

The members of the underground movement in the Equatorial Corps, who would have led the uprising, and who were arrested and detained allegedly accused of conspiracy were:
a). Bashawish (Sergeant Major) Luboyo
b) Shawish (Sergeant) Akec
c). Shawish (sergeant) Latayo
d) Shawish (Sergeant) Musa
e) Shawish (Sergeant) Lumanya
f) Ombashi (Corporal) Lavota

Immediately after the arrest of Corporal Oboya, the Company No 2 came under the direct command of Lieutenant Tafeng. Upon the discovery of his name on the plot, Lieutenant Tafeng who was on his way to Wau on duty was also ordered back to Juba on pretext that he was going to collect the salaries of the army of Torit. On arrival Lt Tafeng and his body guards were placed under arrest. Additionally the following list of suspects was also found.

1) Lieutenant Tafeng Lodongi, 6 Coy, Torit
2) Sergeant Major Lobuho Lohia, HQ Coy Torit
3) Lance Corporal Silvio Olweny, No 1, Torit
4) Sergeant Major Mutek Ingong, No 2 Coy, Torit
5) Sergeant Major Akiyo Lopiatamoi, Signals Platoon, Torit
6) Sergeant Latar Lelong, No 2 Coy, Torit
7) Sergeant Solong, Engineer Coy, Torit
8) Sergeant Samusa, No 1 Coy, Torit
9) Sergeant Lomanya Lomerok, No 2 Coy, Torit
10) Lance Corporal Yesiya Yingki, No 6, Torit
11) Corporal Lofotir Ikille, No 4 Coy, Torit
12) Sergeant Nyombe Mallwa, Terekeka
13) Sergeant Nimaya Boramilai No 3 Coy Torit
14) Sergeant Akim Gelliba,HQ Coy, Terekeka
15) Sergeant Yakobo, No 1 Coy, Juba
16) Warrant Sergeant Major (Sol) Lobuho Lohia (on Leave in Juba) HQs
17) Segeant Major Mario Okello, Signals, Torit,
18) Samuel Okello, No 3 Coy, Kapoeta
19) Sergeant Samone Mufuta, No 3 Coy Wau
20) Sergeant Major Tertaliano No 5 Coy, Kapoeta
21) Sergeant Ejidio Okwir No 5 Coy, Kapoeta
22) Sergeant Major Mizan No 4 Coy, Malakal
23) Sergeant Odong Oto No 4 Coy Malakal
24 Corporal Abednigo Latoil, No 3 Coy, Terekeka

Following the discovery of the plot, the Commanders of the Southern Command and their three governors held an urgent meeting in Juba and made the resolutions. It was essential that northern troops be brought to the South. An urgent message was also sent to that effect. second resolutions was that; the Shawishia (Sergeants) from Wau and Malakal whose names appeared in the conspiracy be lured to Juba under pretext that they were coming on courses and be arrested and detained on arrival so as to discover the extent of the conspiracy. The third resolution was for the civil authorities to proceed to arrest those civilian who were suspected of being involved in the mutiny conspiracy.

On August 8th, 1955, two civilian politicians suspected to have been implicated in the plot: Daniel Jume and Marko Rume were arrested by the District Commissioner Juba District, Sayed Mohamed Abdel Karim. The arrest of the two Members of the Liberal Party triggered public unrest in Juba. They were released after Elia Lupe the Police Inspector of Juba District investigated and released them on Bail.

The situation was heightened further with the arrival of Northern Troops in Juba on August 10th 1955. Juba Prison was stormed by a huge crowd. Prime Minister, Ismail El Azhari gave orders that southern troops be transferred to northern Sudan immediately. To forestall any possible rebellion, the transfer would take place before the formal granting of independence. Southern troops were told they were to attend celebrations marking the departure of all British forces before the scheduled January 1st independence 1956.

Reportedly, the Southern Garrison in Torit mutinied on August 18, 1955 – the day scheduled for their transfer. As indicated here below:

THE TORIT POPULAR UPRISING

“At 7.30 am on August 18, 1955, No 2 Company Southern Corps was assembled on the parade ground, a large open space adjacent to a building which served as the headquarters of the corps at Torit. No 2 Company had previously received orders that they were to move to Khartoum to take part in the celebrations on the occasion of the evacuation of the foreign troops from the Sudan. Motor transport was provided to take them to Juba, some eighty five miles away from Torit and they were scheduled to board a steamer to Khartoum.

At 7.45 am, No 1 platoon was ordered to proceed from the parade ground to the arms depot under the command of Shawish (Sergeant) Mathiang. The Platoon marched smartly, passed by the commanding officer and gave him the salute in the usual way. Suddenly a murmur was heard among the troops in the rest of the company. No 1 Platoon received their riffles and then rushed to return to the company defying orders to stand at attention. No 2 Company immediately broke formation rushed to the arms depot seized the rifles and ammunition and proceeded to run amok through Torit, methodically killing northerners-officers, merchants, women and children. The mutiny of the Southern Corps spread throughout the south like grass fires before rains.

In Equatoria; at Katere, Kapoeta, Nagishot, Terekeka, Yei, Loka, Lainya, Maridi, Yambio and Nzara, northerners were systematically sought and killed.

In Wau and in Bahr al Ghazal as a whole remained tense but free of the slaughter, largely because the northern governor, Da’ud Abdel Latif, handed over the administration to southerners and left for the north on the steamer Dal. At Malakal the Nuba Mounted Police maintained a tense peace until the arrival of a company of northern troops from Khartoum. The only northern troops in Equatoria were a company of Haggana guarding the airport at Juba, because of them the only secure base left in Equatoria through which the Sudan government could fly in troops to crush the mutineers.

By August 31st northern troops had regained control throughout the south and the mutineers had either fled into the forests or surrendered. The official fatalities were 261 northerners and 75 southerners not a staggering number by today’s standards of revolution, but a deep shock to a proud new nation declared an independent republic on January 1956 by the Prime Minister Ismail al Azhari.

But of greater significance than the symbolic lowering of the flags of Great Britain and Egypt was the scene on that hot sunny day of August 31st 1955, about ten o’clock in the morning, when the first northern troops cautiously entered the once bustling town of Torit. It was completely deserted. The eerie silence which enveloped the abandoned town was symbolic, the mark of the beginning of seventeen long years of conflict between the Northern and Southern Sudanese in the Valley of Upper Nile. Undoubtedly, the long and bitter civil war in the South that would plague the nation for the next seventeen years had begun.



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