Solidary Visit to South Sudan- A keyhole Experience: Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo
The visit to South Sudan, a nation in travail groaning for peace since the end of their struggle and liberation from Khartoum-Sudan, was a keyhole experience. It was a keyhole experience because it took place within Juba the capital city of South Sudan by means of meetings without any visit to provincial town and villages. The visitors met with the Church personnel, missionaries, religious men and women many of whom were in refuge in the mother city were there to recuperate from the tense and stressed situation of their mission or to escape for a while from occupying rebel forces or government armies.
As from conversations with the priests, religious missionaries from scattered tribal villages one gathered that the people lived under fear and threat of war all the time and some were killed. The country is unstable for many have abandoned their villages and hamlets and live in the bush. There is no relief or reprieve and there are no pointers or indications that the end in sight. Hostile tribal tensions and conflict between the Dinka and Nuar, for example, are exploited by the opposing forces. This tribal game is taken advantage of within the political circles who force the wedge to their own advantage because of the lack of education, sophistication and critique of the disadvantaged tribes who lack formation. It is clear that this disposition was there even prior to the referendum and liberation of South Sudan. The challenge to whoever is interested in the well-being and prosperity of South Sudan. Besides, engaging the leadership, it is clear that one and primary challenge is to invest in pre-school and primary education and formation of the young people in the attitude and the spirit of peace. This is the first and foremost challenge because only the promotion of literacy informed by the lessons of peace at primary school level or pre-school level can create a youth that is imbued with the thoughts of peace and appreciate their neighbours’ humanity where it is seen as natural to fight and kill the enemy
Listening also to the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan one had the impression that a strategy to dealing with the South Sudan situation has evolved and still evolving within the Council of Churches of South Sudan, hence optimism.
An optimism is budding though not yet at its peak. It is clear that the Council of Churches has a plan and a process i.e. to engage political leaders, political forces and all the interested parties in the conflict, to engage the churches themselves in the work of transformation and reconciliation among the different ethnic groups and tribes in South Sudan. The Bishops’ Conference Secretariat also is engaged in the same way and also in collaboration with the Council of Churches. They are looking for help, resources and formation and training in order to deal with the issues of transformation and peace in the country. Optimism, nevertheless, is growing in spite of general feeling of depression that seem, at times to dominate the atmosphere of our encounter with some people in these meetings.
The Archbishop of Juba shared his feelings about the situation. His hope was nevertheless flavoured by experiences of trauma which indicated that he was struggling to shift towards the light side of the prism of hope. It was a struggle to rise above his personal trauma experienced in the situation of war. It is understood that he is a pastor and has great concern for his people. This was also expressed during the interventions of some of the clergy whose feelings revealed great frustration experienced in their ministry and did not show any amelioration and movement towards a peaceful resolution in South Sudan.
What can we do practically as Church and as citizens of South Africa? It might be of great help to beginning with basic education which is very much lacking in many parts of South Sudan. Would the South African Government offer scholarship to students of education to the youth of South Sudan as a contribution to alleviating the problem of literacy and education for peace? Again offer scholarships for students at university level to improve the quality of education. These would be exposed to a different environment that stresses less tribalism and promotes collaboration among different ethnic groups, also learn that life can be different and return to their country with a spark of hope. There is a dire need for people skilled in administration in Africa. It might be a contribution to the development of this country were the Government offer scholarships to young university students to improve administration and governance in their country.
This is one way of preparing skilled and enlightened youth to South Sudan. In fact, South Africa can contribute substantially in the formation of sound and progressive leadership at all levels. Student exchange programmes are vital for mutual help and understanding of the different political and social conditions of each country. This is just one aspect which might influence the transformation of South Sudan.
Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo OMI
Leader of the delegation.