Long live the spirit of John Garang!

President Thabo Mbeki

After Dr. John Garang's untimely death, then South African President Thabo Mbeki dedicated his page in the ANC Today newsletter to the memory of the man. We reprint his comments here below on this 4th Anniversary since his death:

On Saturday, 30 July 2005, a great tragedy befell the people of Southern Sudan in particular and Sudan in general. On that fateful day, a Ugandan presidential helicopter carrying the First Vice President of the Republic of Sudan, Dr John Garang de Mabior, crashed, killing the Vice President and the Sudanese and Ugandans accompanying him.

On 6 August, we will join the people of Sudan in the Southern Sudanese city of Juba as they lay to rest an outstanding son of Southern Sudan and Sudan as a whole, the late Dr John Garang de Mabior.


This will give us an opportunity once more to convey to the Garang family, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army, (SPLM/A), the Sudanese government and people, the heartfelt condolences of the government and people of our country at the tragic and untimely loss of an eminent Sudanese and African patriot.


As soon as we received the terrible news that Dr Garang had perished in the accident on July 30th, we conveyed our condolences to the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan el-Bashir, and the new Chairperson of the SPLM/A, Lt Gen Salva Kiir Mayardit, Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan.


On 2 and 3 August, our Foreign Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and ANC Secretary General, Kgalema Motlanthe, joined the leadership of the SPLM/A at New Site, Kapoeta Country, Southern Sudan, as this leadership met to consider the difficult situation arising out of the death of its late Chairperson, Dr John Garang. Once more our comrades conveyed our condolences and our solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan and Sudan at their moment of grief.


Twenty-one days before the tragic 30 July accident in Southern Sudan, we had been privileged to attend the moving ceremony in Khartoum, on 9 July, when Dr John Garang was sworn in as the First Vice President of Sudan, as part of the process of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement formally signed in Nairobi on 9 January 2005.


As we parted on that day, First Vice President Garang informed us that he would soon be visiting our country to discuss what we should do next to support the process of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and contribute to the reconstruction and development of Sudan.


Fate dictated that this would be our last conversation with a fellow African freedom fighter with whom we had worked for many years. However, his untimely departure has not reduced our obligation to work in solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan and Sudan as they strive to rebuild this important sister African country.


The SPLM/A was formed in 1983 to struggle for a new, united Sudan. It said that this unity should be based on the historical and contemporary diversities that characterise Sudan, and must therefore be founded on and reflect pluralism, democracy and secularism.

It therefore sought to correct an historical injustice that had entrenched itself in Sudan especially from 1820 when Turko-Egyptian military invasions of Sudan started, with the invaders carrying our raids to acquire slaves, described as "black gold", ivory, described as "white gold", and gold, described as "yellow gold". The Northern Sudanese, who were Arab and Moslem, joined the invaders in these raids.


In 1881 the Sudanese Moslem population, led by Mohamed Ahmed, the Mahdi (Messiah), rose up against Turko-Egyptian rule and defeated the forces led by the British General Gordon, who died in Khartoum. The sovereign Mahdist State was then established. However, the Mahdists intensified the slave trade, which decimated many tribes in Southern Sudan.


The Mahdist State survived from 1881 to 1897, when it was defeated by combined British-Egyptian forces, commanded by the British Lord Kitchener. In the aftermath of this victory, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was proclaimed, subjected to what was called condominium rule. In reality this condominium represented British colonial rule, which lasted until Sudan achieved its independence in 1956.


During the 58 years of Anglo-Egyptian rule, Northern and Southern Sudan were administered as two different entities. The concept of "closed districts" was also introduced, to protect the African populations in Southern Sudan and other parts of the country from the Northern slave traders and the processes of enforced Arabisation and Islamisation. Passes were required for travel between North and South and other "closed districts".


However, in 1947, the British reversed their approach, which visualised separate futures for the North and the South. They now saw Sudan as one single entity. As independence approached, the Southern Sudanese feared that this independence would only mean their colonisation by the Arab and Islamic North, who would take over from the British colonialists.


Four months before the proclamation of independence on January 1, 1956, the Southern units of the colonial Sudan Defence Force rebelled. The Anyanya guerrilla army formed by the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement after this rebellion waged a protracted war for the independence of Southern Sudan. This war only ended with the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972, which was facilitated among others by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the All Africa Council of Churches.

Relative peace returned to Sudan for about 10 years thereafter. However the North worked to undermine the provisions and the intentions of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. Understanding this, the Southerners prepared for the resumption of war. Finally, in June 1983, the Sudanese Government under President Jaffar el-Numeiry abrogated the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement.


On May 16, 1983, the Sudanese Army had attacked its own units composed of former Anyanya guerrillas who had been integrated in the Army, accusing them of rebellion or the intention to rebel. These units took to the bush. Thus was born the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

As the military conflict continued from then onwards, various initiatives were undertaken to find a peaceful solution to the historic confrontation between the Sudanese North and South, starting with the 1985 call by the SPLM for an all-party National Constitutional Conference that would negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement.


Ultimately, after a number of failed attempts, the mediation process was taken over by the regional Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), whose conflict resolution sub-committee was chaired by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi and subsequently President Mwai Kibaki.


The IGAD peace initiative was formally launched in Nairobi on 17 March 1994. It concluded its work with the formal signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A in Nairobi on 9 January 2005. Given its critical importance, the ceremony was witnessed by many representatives from across the world, including our then Deputy President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma.


The historic task now facing the Sudanese people is the full, speedy and unequivocal implementation of the CPA, bearing in mind all the complex challenges that Sudan has inherited from its past.


The last census conducted by the British before independence said the Sudanese population was 61% African and 31% Arab, with 8% being West African Moslems who had settled in Sudan while on their way to or from Mecca.


The North is predominantly Moslem and the South adheres to Christianity and traditional African religions. Sudan is said to have more than 500 ethnic groups, who speak more than 100 distinct languages. We have presented this brief social profile and truncated history of Sudan since 1820 to indicate the challenges this sister country faces as it works to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and build the new Sudan.


One document that sought to describe Sudan, to explain the difficult road ahead, said: "Sudan is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual. The North-South divide in identity has always been significant due to differences in, for instance, religion, culture and ethnicity. These identity differences were shaped and manifested in violent clashes, and became a tendency in the long-lasting conflict.


"The formation of Northern identities is centred on a strong sense of being Arab and Muslim, two pillars of personal identity that have been used to unify communities in the North. Furthermore, the Northern view of Southerners as inferior and often as slaves, created a social hierarchy in which the Northerners have often imposed their political and economic superiority on the South.


"On the other hand, the Southern identities have been shaped in response to the often violent exploitation by dominant forces since the early 1800s. In certain instances territory or region overlapped with questions of identity, for political power, material resources or values and ideology.

"The present conflict in Darfur is an example of this, where large segments of the local population assumed a different consciousness or identity, i.e. that of opposing the central government through taking up arms, as a response to marginalisation. This happened despite having the same religion and culture as the ruling elite in Khartoum.


"Civil war and failed peace processes thus happened in the context of political and economic marginalisation of the periphery, and in the absence of inclusive constitutional negotiations to address the political and socio-economic needs of diverse groups."


To create the basis for Sudan to break out of its tortured past, as early as 20 July 1994, the Government of Sudan and the then two factions of the SPLM/A agreed on a Declaration of Principles, which they said would "constitute the basis for resolving the conflict in the Sudan."


The Declaration said: "The right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan to determine their future status through a referendum must be affirmed. Maintaining the unity of the Sudan must be given priority by all parties provided that the following principles are established in the political, legal, economic and social framework of the country: Sudan is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural society. Full recognition and accommodation of these diversities must be affirmed. Complete political and social equalities of all peoples in the Sudan must be guaranteed by law."


The CPA signed on 9 January 2005 also contained Agreed Principles. These reflect the 1994 Declaration and say, inter alia, that the Parties agree: "That the unity of the Sudan, based on the free will of its people, democratic governance, accountability, equality, respect, and justice for all citizens of the Sudan shall be the priority of the Parties, and that it is possible to redress the grievances of the people of South Sudan and to meet their aspirations within such a framework.

"That the people of South Sudan have the right to self-determination, inter alia, through a referendum to determine their future status;.that the people of the Sudan share a common heritage and aspirations and accordingly agree to work together to establish as democratic system of governance taking account of the cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and linguistic diversity and gender equality of the people of the Sudan."

After a deeply troubled history that covers many centuries, Sudan has now set itself on a path that should lead to peace and friendship among its diverse people. Given its enormous economic potential, the new Sudan also has the possibility to provide a better life for all its people, eradicating poverty and underdevelopment.

It has the possibility to serve as a shining example of the success of Africa's renaissance, a model for all our countries, which, in the main, are as diverse as Sudan is. It can lead our continent in cementing the unity between its Northern and Sub-Saharan parts.

Consistent with our internationalist character as a movement and given our national responsibilities towards the rest of our continent, we have the responsibility to work with the Sudanese people to help them achieve the noble goals they have set themselves. Together, as South Africans, we must make the commitment that we will not fail them.

The new beacon of hope for the Sudan and Africa represented by the Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement will forever remain an indestructible monument to the memory of a great Sudanese and African patriot, the late Dr John Garang de Mabior. As we lay him to rest in Juba on August 6, we will also pledge to pursue the noble goals to which he dedicated his life. His spirit will not die.

*Thabo Mbeki is former President of the Republic of South Africa