The National – Wednesday, February 9, 2011
THE speakers were crackly and the outdoor cinema screen flickered.
Those at the back in the dark of the giant thousand-strong crowd could hardly make out what was being said.
But for the southerners gathered to watch the results of their historic independence referendum, only one message mattered: the confirmation that the south will become a nation of its own.
As the result was confirmed, that 98.83% of the voters had backed independence, those at the front leapt up, waving flags and cheering.
Those at the back, hearing the shouts of delight, began to dance.
“We are free, we have won our independence!” shouted former soldier William Machar.
“This is our moment in history, when we watch our baby-nation being born.”
People in the southern capital of Juba flocked to the grave of former rebel leader John Garang, the first president of the south, to hear the results broadcast live from Khartoum.
Hundreds sat on plastic chairs, craning their heads forward to hear the historic words.
The atmosphere was electric.
One woman, like hundreds of others, waved a southern flag.
“This is the symbol of the 193rd country in the world,” she shouted, followed by an ear-splitting ululation.
One group of young men came with candles rammed into plastic drink bottles, pre-emptively welcoming in the birth of the new nation.
“Happy birthday our country, happy birthday Southern Sudan,” they sang, arms draped around each other in celebration.
The south is not due to declare formal independence until July 9.
“I was born in war, and I grew up as a soldier,” Robert Duk, a student, said. “So for me to see this day, something I dreamed of but never could believe, is something I find hard to put into words.”
Despite the excitement following the result, people quickly sat down to listen to the next speech, intent on hearing all that was said.
“This is what happens when you oppress and marginalise a people for more than 50 years,” Puok Dieu, who fought in the civil war, said. “One day, those people will rise up and say: ‘It is enough’.
“The results of the referendum mean I am free today,” Abiong Nyok, a housewife, said. “Now I am a first-class citizen in my own country.”
The crowd was in a mood to party.
“We are going to take to the streets and celebrate until dawn,” Peter Deng, a youth leader, said. “All us here grew up during the war, so we are so happy to be celebrating our freedom in peace.”
But away from the live screening in the centre, Juba seemed quiet.
Many in the south have already privately been celebrating the results, which have filtered out in recent days.
“We, in the south, never had any doubt what the results would be,” Alfred Juma, a teacher, said.
“But it is a great relief to hear it confirmed, and to hear that the north have accepted it too.”
Others, however, were more reflective.
“We will celebrate at home,” Mary Akoch, a widow whose husband died in the two-decade conflict, said.
“The young will go to the bars, but there are many like me who will remember the cost of this achievement, the deaths of so many of our people, so many of those we loved.” – BBC