A story of forgotten liberator
Yester evening I visited Mia Saba market to meet one relative and as I stood waiting for him to come,
By James Yac Garang
I was approached by a gentleman in his late 50s. He stood straight facing me and forthwith `I realized that he was coming to me and wanted to talk to me. I took my eyes off the phone and gave him my attention. The gentleman asked me “are you the son of Garang Akot” I was faced with dilemma on whether to ask back “why” because I was mindful of my security given the fact that he was stranger to me and the other reason was area we met. But then I quickly responded yes. The guy smiled at me, extended his hand to me, shook my hands and said “mashallah” in Arabic. So inquisitive I was left after handshakes and friendly smiles I wanted to know who he was and why forthright? I asked him who he was and he told me his names (names withheld)
Then he began to tell me his relationship with the man known among his comrades and family as Garangdit. He told me that he was in the commanding headquarter of 2 different Mobile Task Forces that Comrade Garangdit led from Western Bhar el Ghzazal to Western and Central Equatoria in the early and late 1990s. I gave him more time as I reflected on the contributions of this forgotten liberator among the host of liberators that live and rest in the unknown worlds and this veteran that I’m not worthy to stand before. He narrated to me their experiences in battles; ambushes and assaults against Jihadists in the Equatoria and Bhar el Ghazal region, their experiences too with operations in Rumbek and finally in Tonj. As I listened to him a dozen of questions was processed in my mind and fundamental question among them then was, why would this liberator be in this abject situation in the country he so much sacrificed? Then a phrase in Catholic Eucharistic prayer that goes “God so much love the world that he gave his only son to die so those who believe in him maybe saved” He went on to tell me experiences of two battles they fought in attempts to capture Maridi.
One was of the comrade, a private who hails from Tonj (the soldier is still alive in village now in Tonj according to him) who was shot at both legs all broken in action and was left behind because Garangdit and his men were so much hit by the enemies that they had to retreat in disarray. According to him Comrade Garangdit was always the last to retreat when they had to (a testimony many of his soldiers told). So as Comrade Garangdit retreated tactfully he was called (“Comrade Garangdit”) by a wounded man who asked Garangdit to go and take his gun and leave him behind to be finished by the enemies (this was an action of a bravery and character of a patriotic soldier to give up his weapon to his comrade so that same weapon could be used even after his death instead of being captured by the enemy) Comrade Garangdit as he called him decided to go back and carried the wounded soldier with guns and managed to maneuver despite having sustained injuries from bombs and being told by the wounded comrade that he (the wounded man was useless kalas and should be left to die). According to this gentleman comrade Garangdit and the wounded soldier had to arrive in the barrack a day after when they had already lost hope that their commander with other comrades were missed in action.
Second, story was of another assault they lost and few of them about 20 men were besieged on top of a mountain for a day in area of Maridi for a day till reinforcement went to rescued them. According to the man their force that went to rescue them had forced the enemy to open a corridor and when they came down the mountain fighting their way (those of us who go hiking on Jebel Kujur and those who trained on the mountains of Bonga can tell their experiences of going down the mountain and imagine when you had to fire your way and dodge bullets and bombs) Comrade Garangdit was held back by a branch of a tree by his belt and his old belt from 1984 was cut into two pieces then his trouser went down as a result. Dear readers at that point I couldn’t hold back my tears than to let them roll down my cheeks for two reasons; one was how emaciated the man he called comrade Garangdit was to the point that his trouser could go down when the belt was cut, second is the situation this man narrating a story to me is in now.
According to him, he and another comrade all bodyguards of comrade Garangdit had to take positions and covered comrade Garangdit as he looked for rope (bark of a tree) from same tree to tie his trouser while under fire from enemy. Luckily enough, they managed to rescue him and escaped the wrath of enemy. Days later they managed to capture Maridi from enemy and had to be sent back to Western Bhar el Ghazal after the mission was completed for other operations
.Comrade Garangdit’s Liberation epochs Stephen Garang Akot Yach joined Anya Anya I as a youth and fought several battles before he was integrated into SAF after 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. He served in the SAF till 1983 when he defected from SAF in Nyala-Western Sudan region. He was a member of 110 battalion .He went to Ethiopia-Bilpam where he and other former members from SAF trained Mour Mour and in 1984/85 he went to Kapoeta Eastern Equatoria with Bee battalion as 1st Lt and in 1986 they went to Bhar el Ghazal and was transferred to Nile battalion on request of his friend commander Deng Awai because members of Bee battalion were finished in numerous battles they fought from Kapoeta to region around Wau. From 1985/6 he trekked between Wau, Tonj, Central and Western Equatoria with Mobile Forces where he did his part of liberation till 2006 after CPA when he was moved to Juba for assignment after promotion to rank of Colonel in SPLA. He died a year later in what the family believed was a poison he drunk with soda (cola).Reflections and self-assessment We talked with this veteran and hero then agreed to meet soon for more stories. As I got in to my car and drove a way I almost stalled in the middle of the road as I was almost overwhelmed by emotions. I asked myself why am I driving and this liberator who saved the life of forgotten liberator is struggling to get is daily bread? Why am I wearing decent clothes when this veteran like many others are forgotten by generation they helped to recover dignity? At least comrade Garangdit has people who tell and write his stories but then how about many others whose stories are untold and unwritten? How about the comrades they lost in the battles against enemies on that mount in Maridi? If this veteran goes to Maridi, Rumbek, Kajo kojie, Tonj, Kapoeta and Wau would he be seen as a liberator, hero, patriotic or another useless man from that or this ethnicity? Will I leave behind indelible patriotism as comrade Garangdit? Are we able to think of the forgotten liberators for a moment?I end this experience with what my dear father told me when I met him again after 12 yrs in 1999 and asked him to retire from SPLA and focus on future of his children (my other siblings since he was getting old and there was no hope for stable Sudan then) He said a day after I asked him as we dinned, “Yach my son if we desert SPLA who will fight this war and liberate this Country” (Garangdit: 1999 Delile Mapel).In my entire life I was able to live with Garangdit for 4 months that means he is a man known by his comrades but unknown to most of us in the family. Continue to rest in eternal peace my dear father comrade Stephen Garang Akot and thank you all who contributed to the, liberation, recognition and hoisting of South Sudan’s national flag among the host of sovereign nations