RUMBEK – “I am hopping on crutches with happiness because we are enjoying freedom as South Sudanese people,” says Martin Malual-Buthokleec, a former SPLA soldier from Rumbek who got wounded in the liberation struggle.
The war wounded, whose leg was blown off by a machine gun in Torit, is even more proud that his home town, Rumbek, played a crucial role in the struggle.
“Our people were brave and loyal. Our soldiers never turned against the SPLA. Rumbek Secondary School groomed John Garang and many current leaders,” he says.
“This school, established by the British, has given our leaders a feeling of nationalism and motivated them to fight for the liberation of South Sudan.”
Rumbek town fell in the hands of the SPLA on May 1, 1997. Shortly afterwards, the SPLA organised a congress at Pacong Payam Forest, where it organised its ranks and forces to defeat the Sudan government.
“This was when Dr. Garang declared Rumbek the SPLA’s political headquarters, where its administration was based and its operations were planned. It is also where later the peace negotiations were discussed.”
Malual-Buthokleec is convinced that without the contribution of Rumbek’s people and leaders, Independence would not have been achieved.
“If the people of Lakes state had participated in the rebellion against the SPLA in 1991, our Independence would not have been achieved,” he says.
“In 2004, during the rift between Garang and his deputy, Salva Kiir, it was the people of Rumbek who persuaded both to reconcile and re-unite.”
A reconciliation conference between Garang and Salva Kiir was organised in Rumbek, after which the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.
Up to today, Rumbek continues to play the role of mediator and peacemaker, says Malual-Buthokleec.
“There was another rift within the SPLM leadership in 2008. The SPLM National Convention to iron out the tribal differences, called by 68 members, was an initiative of the Rumbek people,” he says.
As the country celebrates one year Independence, he calls upon the nation to remember the millions who sacrificed their lives for this.
In Rumbek alone, over 8,000 SPLA soldiers and officers perished in the struggle while over 2,700 got wounded, according to Malual-Buthokleec.
“We were not paid to fight. It was about nationalism. We were ready to sacrifice our lives for other generations to be free from oppression,” he says.
The war wounded will proudly participate in the Independence celebrations on Monday.
“We are marching now on one leg but we are happy that we brought peace and stability for the people of South Sudan,” he says.
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