Chapter 34 - 'Time for South Sudan to get Independent'

Following the signing of the peace treaty after the Civil War ended, people in South Sudan thought it was time for them to get independence from the Arabs. We Sudanese in Tasmania had to go to Melbourne in December 2010 for the registration for the referendum which then took place in January 2011 to determine the future of our country. The reason I had to travel to Melbourne was that the rules said that for a polling centre to be put here in Tasmania we would need to have ten thousand voters. There are only five hundred Sudanese here so we were not eligible to have a registration and voting centre here. The Australian centres were in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. Those cities reached the required population totals. In Melbourne, one suburb alone, Dandenong, has more than four thousand Sudanese people.

All Sudanese in Tasmania had to travel twice to Melbourne within six weeks, once to register and once to vote. I think it was a political trick by the Arabs to discourage people from voting. Even within Sudan when people have to travel a long distance some people say, “No, I’m not going. Why should I travel long distances?” But if you think of the history of the Sudan, voting for independence is something that comes once in a lifetime so it was really very important, especially for us of the Sudanese Diaspora, to make a decision and be part of it.

In a sitting of parliament on Tuesday 16th November 2010 Cassy O’Connor, the member for Denison, spoke in the Tasmanian House of Assembly on behalf of the Sudanese community. She wanted Tasmania to make sure the five hundred Sudanese people living in Tasmania were able to have a say in the future of South Sudan. Tasmanian Sudanese people had staged a demonstration in front of Parliament House the previous week, protesting about their potential exclusion from the process of registration, which was to take place from the fourteenth of November to the first of December 2010, and the polling, which was from the ninth to the fifteenth of January 2011, since the South Sudan Referendum Commission had decided to approve registration centres only in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, which placed Sudanese people outside those centres at a distinct disadvantage. There had been lobbying to allow postal voting but this was rejected.

Ms O’Connor said she empathised with the angst and distress of the regional Sudanese community members on low incomes or who had children or jobs that would make it impossible for them to travel interstate and she called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to assist Sudanese in regional Australia to take part in the democratic vote on the future of Sudan. No Commonwealth Government assistance resulted, however, despite Ms O’Connor pointing out that many of the Sudanese who lived in Tasmania had family members in Sudan and felt it was their democratic right and indeed their responsibility to take part in this referendum. She quoted twenty two year old Ayon Marlo Ring, one of the protesters, who said, “Through us having a say we can contribute to their sense of freedom and also to happiness in Australia.” (Hansard: Tasmanian House of Assembly 16 November, 2010)

The Tasmanian Sudanese community were able to go to Melbourne as a group to register, followed by another trip to vote. People were anxious because of the history of the country, thinking maybe the result wouldn’t be okay, maybe fighting would occur, but to our surprise, the result was that an amazing 98.3 per cent of people voted for separation. They gave us two symbols. One of the symbols was two hands. That meant unity and the other symbol was only one hand, which meant, “Bye bye,” to the Central Khartoum government and the birth of an independent and separate Republic of South Sudan. I voted for separation.

When we went to Melbourne twice in quick succession my children asked me, “Why are we going there?” So I told them, “We are going to determine the future of Sudan.” They said, “What is wrong with the future of Sudan?” That was a question coming from them. I said, “Well, what you don’t know is that there has been a lot of fighting going on in Sudan and that’s what made us come here to Australia.” But they still couldn’t understand. I told them, “We went for registration, we did voting and now, because we did that, we have separated from the Arabs and from the torture, from all those negative things that used to happen in our country.”

But my daughter Vicky still can’t understand it, neither can the little ones, but I hope when they grow up and are able to visit South Sudan again they will get to understand it better.