The situation in South Sudan before the Uprising
To understand the causes and events that led to the Uprising, a brief look at the situation obtaining in Sudan, particularly Southern Sudan, both politically and administratively is necessary. Those were as follows:
Firstly, Sir Alexander Knox Helm, the British Governor-General was still the supreme power in the country.
Secondly, The British army was still in Sudan, in Khartoum and Port Sudan
Thirdly, Ismail El Azhari was the Prime Minister (PM) in charge of the Self- Government (Executive)
Fourthly, the National Unionist Party of PM El Azhari was the majority in the Parliament of 97 members. For Southern representation in the Parliament, there were 23 seats. Out of those 23, 11 were members of the Liberal Party while the other 12 were either Independents or members of Northern political parties, especially of PM El Azhari’s National Unionist Party.
Fifthly, Sudanization of senior posts in the administration, police, military, and prisons had been completed. But Southerners were very disappointed with the outcome because, out of about 900 such posts, only four went to the South Sudanese. There was the battalion-size Equatoria Corps, sometimes called Southern Corps, of the Sudan Defence Force, with its headquarters at Torit. It was solely composed of Southerners with Northern officers, who had just replaced the British officers. The Equatoria Corps was composed of five companies deployed as follows: Headquarters and No. 2 Company in Torit; No 3 Company in Wau; No. 4 Company in Kapoeta; and No. 5 Company in Malakal. There were platoon-size units scattered in many parts of the South, e.g. Juba and Yambio. There however were a handful of Non-Commissioned Southern Officers from the ranks, such as Reynaldo Loleya, Ali Gbatala, Mändiri Onjekye, Taffeng Lodongi, Albino Tombe, Nyang Diu and a few others.
Seventhly, also by now the administrators in the South, i.e. Governors, DCs and Mamurs, were all Northerners, except for a handful of Southerners who were mostly Mamurs, junior administrators. The same situation goes for the police and prison forces.
Eighthly, politically the Southerners were angry and disappointed with the connivance of the Egyptians and Northerners which excluded hem from the Cairo Talks that prescribed the steps towards self-determination, Sudanization of posts and thereafter independence. MP Benjamin Lwoki Chairman of the Liberal Party and Paul Logali, Chairman of the Juba Political Committee, respectively vehemently expressed this sentiment. Thus Southerners were much against getting independence unprepared with Northerners, fearing that the Northerners would mistreat them and bring back the days of slavery. There, therefore, was much resentment against Northerners, especially in Equatoria and great support for the federation for the South. Ninthly, English was the official language in Southern Sudan used in the Government offices and schools. Southerners, especially the government officials were alarmed when in December 1948, the Minister of Education Ali Abdel Rahman announced that Arabic would be the only official language in the government offices and therefore had to be taught in schools.
Significant events leading to the Uprising
By 1954, the demand for federation had grown, and the need to prevent Sudan from getting independence by doing something practical was also growing. Hence, clandestine groups, contacts and meetings began between some members of the Southern Sudan Welfare Association (SSWA), the Liberal Party and some elements of the Equatoria Corps in Torit, as to how to realize it. Several incidents, however, provided the prelude to the uprising
From early 1955 to July 1955
About April/May, a telegram in cypher purportedly arrived at Juba post office. It was received by a Southern clerk who was on duty at the time. This man stole the key to the cypher from his Northern boss’ drawer and thereby obtained the original Arabic version. The content was translated into English by Fraser Ako. The telegram reportedly contained a directive from PM El Azhari to all Northern administrators in the South not to tolerate the childish complaint of Southerners about federation and also to admonish, them to suppress/mistreat those who advocated for it. The content of that telegram was widely circulated throughout the South by Daniel Jumi and Marko Rume, members of the Juba Secret Committee in Juba. For this, they were arrested. A crowd gathered to protest their arrest and it was dispersed by the police using tear gas. This incident heightened the nascent anti-North feeling among the officials and the general public. It is possible that a plot most have been hatched between the politicians in Juba and the soldiers in Torit, notably NCO Renaldo Loleya, Private Saturlino and others.
Earlier in the year, the Liberal Party called for an all-inclusive Southern Conference to be held in Juba in July to discuss the demand for the federation for the South. PM Ismail El Azhari and the Northerners were very much alarmed to learn that their Southern NUP members were going to attend it. That made them realize that indeed, there was a real demand for federation among all Southerners, irrespective of party affiliation. They feared that if not arrested, it could delay the impending independence of Sudan; and therefore they made up their minds to frustrate it.
July 1955. Hence, in their own effort to show that the people and their chiefs did not support the demand for the federation, the DC and ADC of Yambio called the Zande chiefs and falsely obtained their signatures in a document, dissociating themselves from the demand for a federation, as was being articulated by the Liberal Party as well as by the educated Southerners. That document was telegraphically sent to Khartoum, and the government made wide publicity about it. The content of the telegraph annoyed the Liberal Party, especially its member for Yambio, MP Eliya Kuze.
In the same month, a telegram written in cypher arrived at Juba post office. It was received by a Southern clerk who was on duty on that day. This man stole the key of the cypher from his Northern boss’ drawer and thereby obtained the original Arabic version. The content was translated into English by Mr. Frazer Ako. The telegram reportedly contained directives from PM El Azhari to all the Northern administrators in the South, telling them not to tolerate the childish complaint of the Southerners about federation and also admonishing them to suppress/mistreat them. The content of that telegram was widely circulated throughout the South by Daniel Jumi and Marko Rume, members of the Juba Secret Committee in Juba. For this, they were arrested. A crowd gathered to protest their arrest and it was dispersed by the police using tear gas.
On 6 and 7 July, the Liberal Party Conference was duly held in Juba. Deliberations and resolutions of that Conference remain unknown.
On 7 July, while the Liberal Party Conference was going on in Juba, MP Eliya Kuze called a meeting of 300-500 Zandes in Yambio. In the meeting, he condemned the chiefs for signing the letter that dissociated themselves from the federation, which he said was a popular demand of Southerners. He told the crowd that given that, all the chiefs who signed the letter should be removed. The chiefs reacted angrily at the suggestion of their removal and encouraged by the DC, ordered the arrest of Eliya.
On 25 July, the chiefs tried Eliya and sentenced him to two years imprisonment. When the verdict was announced, a crowd of 700 staged a demonstration outside the court. The police had to disperse it using tear gas. (Comment: certainly the DC knew that Eliya as an MP could not be arrested and tried by such a very low court just like that and without his parliamentary immunity being removed. But he allowed it to go on. However, later the Chief Justice in Khartoum ordered a re-trial and he was released.)
On 26 July, the very next day, the workers at the Spinning and Weaving Factory at Nzara staged a demonstration over two main issues: the dismissal of 300 of their colleagues; and the demand for federation. They shouted anti-North slogans at their senior members of the management who were Northerners. The few policemen at Nzara could not handle the situation, and so the management called for help from the army unit at Yambio. The army arrived and when the crowd refused to disperse, the Northern officer in charge, Muatassim Abdel Rahman, ordered the army to open fire and 14 persons were shot dead. Those were the first Southern lives to be lost in the struggle with the North. The news of the killing of the workers travelled far and wide, especially in Equatoria and heightened the already existing tension and resentment to Northerners. With this and by the end of July, the stage was set for a full-scale rebellion in Equatoria.
On 06 August in Torit, Private Saturlino Oboyo shot at a man with an arrow, who he mistook to be one of the Northern officers. He was arrested, was and his house was searched. In the search several documents were found, indicating the plan to kill all Northern officers and taking over of Torit and possibly Juba. The document indicated that Private Saturlino, who styled himself as “President of the Southern Corps”, was in contact with some Liberal Party members in Juba. Other names found in the documents were of Non-Commissioned Officers Reynaldo Loleya, Taffeng Lodongi and others. In fact, earlier and when he was in Juba with Reynaldo, Saturlino had wanted to start the action there and then, but Reynaldo dithered. It is quite likely that the aim of the uprising was a last-ditch effort to either delay the impending independence of Sudan, which Southerners in general detested or declare outright independence of Southern Sudan.
The information (plot) found in Saturlino’s house was relayed to Khartoum. and in reaction, PM El Azharis’s government took the following actions to1: neutralize the plot To immediately decapitate the troops in Torit: So on 08 August, Taffeng, who was reputed to be a soldier’s soldier, a good marksman and a good leader was requested to go to Juba and to proceed to Khartoum, ostensibly for official duties. However, upon arriving at Juba, he was promptly arrested. Later, Reynaldo was also requested to go to Juba with some soldiers, and upon arrival at Juba, he was also put under some semi arrest.
To send Northern troops to Juba: Hence, Northern troops were ferried by the British Royal Air Force planes to Juba (first time since 1926) to protect Juba, since his government could no more trust the Southern soldiers to obey orders to arrest collaborators: So Daniel Jumi and Marko Rume of the SSWA and also of the Secret Committee in Juba were arrested.
To remove the No. 2 Company in Torit: A stratagem was worked out to the effect that the No. 2 Company should go to Khartoum to participate in the celebrations, marking the departure of the British soldiers in Sudan. But that they were to go without their arms. The soldiers obviously found that very strange, since they argued, that they had always travelled from Juba to Khartoum with their arms. They were told that they would be issued their arms in Khartoum upon arrival. That did not satisfy them. Given the tense political situation, they felt that that was a ploy to get them away from the South and so they became very suspicious and openly expressed their unwillingness to go to Khartoum. As we shall see in the next paragraph, this stratagem, however, failed and it turned out to be the spark that started the first Southern uprising against a united Sudan and Northerners, in general, This uprising, though only in Equatoria, inspired the subsequent Southern resistance movement to Northern domination.
Thursday 18 August 1955 was the date for the departure of No. 2 Company for Juba and Khartoum. With their arms in the armoury, they were paraded in the morning with lorries at the ready for them to mount and move to Juba. But when they were ordered to climb the lorries, they refused and repeated their concern about being sent to Khartoum without their arms. In the ensuing altercation, the officer commanding the parade, Captain Salah Abdel Magid who was to lead the convoy, ordered his driver to enter the car, but the driver refused. Treating it as disobedience, Salah shot him dead and the parade broke up immediately. The soldiers ran amok and broke into the armoury and began to kill their Northern officers as well as Northern civilians in Torit. Officer Salah, who shot the soldier, got into the car and fled to Juba.
The news of the incident in Torit reached Juba between 9:00 -10:00 am,., and so an attempt was also made to disarm the soldiers in Juba under NCO Ali Gbatala. They were paraded in front of the Northern troops and were ordered to put down their weapons. But they also refused and the Northern troops fired on them. NCO Ali Gbatala and his men ran and escaped with their arms Those soldiers took their lorries and drove out of Juba, telling the people along the roads of Juba-Lainya-Yei and Lainya-Mundri-Maridi-Yambio that Northerners had shot and killed many people in Juba (the writer was then a pupil at Loka and saw those soldiers). In their anger, the people joined the rebellion and began to kill any Northerner they saw. Hence, Northerners were killed in Kapoeta, Katire, Torit, Loka West, Yei, Mundri, Tali, Amadi, Terekeka, Maridi, Ibba, Yambio and Nzara. NCO Reynaldo Loleya also escaped back to Torit. So for a whole month or so, the government in Juba and Khartoum lost control of Equatoria, except for Juba town. Given that, the government brought more soldiers from the North to restore law and order. On the other hand, except for high tension, Upper Nile and Bahr El Ghazal were not affected and their people did not rise against the government; nor did they kill any Northerner.
The Governor-General and the surrender of the soldiers
PM El Azhari’s Government requested the Governor-General, Sir Alexander Knox Helm to intervene, as he was still the supreme head in Sudan. Subsequently, the Governor-General got in touch with Reynaldo in Torit and put an extreme pressure on him to surrender, giving him a false assurance. Reynaldo conveyed the Governor General’s message to Ali Gbatala. On 24 August, Ali strongly advised Reynaldo not to surrender. But despite that advice, on 28 August Reynaldo surrendered. He then was tasked by the Governor-General to collect the soldiers and their arms. Using the Governor General’s false assurance, he convinced the ordinary soldiers, and they began to surrender in droves. As a soldier, Reynaldo should have known that a court-martial usually awaits any soldier who mutinies. But Reynaldo naively trusted the Governor-General, just because he was British, just as many Southerners were wont to trust the British during those days. After having been used, he paid for this with his life.
Repercussions and reprisals
In the meantime, more Northern troops were brought and deployed in all towns in Southern Sudan. In Equatoria, well-armed Northern troops were sent along Juba-Torit-Kapoeta; Juba- Yei; and Juba-Lainya-Mundri-Maridi-Yambio roads to restore government presence in those towns. On their way, they beat up persons whom they suspected to be involved in the uprising, On Torit road they not only beat up those they suspected to have been involved in the killing of Northerners but shot dead many ordinary persons. This aggravated the negative feeling against the Northerners and the government.
As soon as the Northern troops had secured the towns and administration had been restored, the government set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into what is called the so-called ‘Southern Sudan Disturbances’. It also set up a Court Martial to try the soldiers and a ‘Special Court’ to try the police, prison staff and the civilians. Very briefly, below is what the courts dispensed.
The Court Martials
Right away after the surrender, NCO Albino Tombe was arrested in Torit, tortured and killed even before the court-martial. And after completing the task of collecting the soldiers and their arms, NCO Reynaldo was arrested, court-martialed and executed, together with reportedly 200 others. NCOs Taffeng Lodongi, Mändiri Onjekye and others were tried and jailed in Port Sudan. While NCO Ali Gbatala escaped to the bush in Congo and ex-policeman, Lutada Hillir escaped to the Imatong Mountains, and both continued to fight the government.
The Special Courts
For the police and prison warders in Equatoria, all were disbanded, except for those in Juba; and all those who were accused of complicity were tried and some executed. For example, in Yambio police officers Placido Loboke and Marcelo Andal, as well as prison officer Olympio Lako, were tried and executed. For the rank and file police and warders, after disarmament, screened and most were dismissed with dishonour. The disarmament process, however, did not proceed smoothly. For example, at Yei and Amadi, the police were told to come and collect their salaries which they had missed for two months or so. They were paraded in front of Northern troops and fire was opened on them on the pretext that they were running away. Those shot dead at Yei reportedly were six at Amadi two were shot dead, Aleli and Eluzai Lomo. At Maridi, all policemen were arrested and tried some were imprisoned, and others discharged. At the same time, others like Ädugä, Elikia Janga, Gorobe and his son Alexander and others were executed over the killing of the ADC. It is also worth noting here that, when Ädugä was condemned and was taken to the firing squad, as a show of defiance, he refused to be blindfolded, telling his executioners that, when he shot the ADC, the ADC was not blind-folded. His wish was granted and was shot while looking at the barrels of the guns. Ädugä was remembered for his bravery through locally composed songs. Similar treatment was meted to the police in the Eastern Bank of Torit and Kapoeta.
For the civilians, those who were alleged to have taken part in the uprising were arrested, and many were tortured. Some of them were shot and others were imprisoned. In the trials at Maridi, those who were killed by firing squad to mention a few: Samuel Kajivora (Headmaster Mundri Elementary School) and William Ano (Book Seller) for the death of the Arabic teacher Bilal by the Torit soldiers. Joseph Oduho (Headmaster Mundri Intermediate School) was sentenced to death for the killing of Arabic teacher Bilal but was commuted to imprisonment Bullen Ngangi (Headmaster Maridi Elementary School) was executed for the death of the DC and assuming the office of the DC. In Tali, Natania Wajo was executed for the death of a Northern merchant in the town. In Yei, among the many others executed, was Michael Wata an Assistant Executive Officer.
On the other hand, for the civilians, those who were imprisoned included persons like Lewis Lado Gore, Head Clerk, (Maridi), Chief Eliya Kundu of Lainya (Yei) and many more. In the other Districts of Equatoria, similar trials took place with similar results.
Those were the people whose initial struggle and sacrifice eventually led to the struggle under SPLM/A. I hope this has given you a brief but full picture of that historical Uprising.