August 18th, 1955 Revisited: Torit is Synonymous with the South Sudanese Armed Struggle

Posted: August 20, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël in Columnists, Editorials, Featured Articles, History, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, PaanLuel Wël

“Alam akaac Torit, alam jech John, kabuku laar Juba Thudanda Jidiit. Kalashnikov adhiaau Thudanda aluel John, kabuku biok mutfa Thudanda Jidiit”—SPLM/A revolutionary song in Dinka acknowledging and praising Torit as the heart and soul of the Movement.

By PaanLuel Wel, Washington DC, USA, 2011

Torit mutiny

The 61st anniversary of August 18, 1955, Torit Mutiny that launched the 50 years revolutionary struggle of South Sudanese against Khartoum, culminating in the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. Photo by Citizen Lagu

August 20, 2011 (SSB) — Torit town is the apotheosis of the South Sudanese armed struggle against the sadomasochistic successive Khartoum regimes. It was in Torit town that the first bullet of the first Southern uprising was shot at the Jalaba on August 18th, 1955. The Equatoria corps, the valiant Southern soldiers who spearheaded the Torit Mutiny, was from Torit town. Father Saturnino Lohure, the priest turned rebel leader of Anyanya One, hailed from Torit. Torit was the first official SPLM/A headquarters. After the failed Nasir coup against Dr. Garang’s leadership, his faction was christened SPLM/A-Torit. The recaptured of Torit town by the Al-Bashir regime from the SPLM/A in 1992 engineered a frenzied celebration in Khartoum. The subsequent re-recapturing of Torit by the SPLM/A during the CPA negotiation nearly hemorrhaged the peace talks.

Of all South Sudanese historical events and dates associated with Torit town, none is as important, encompassing and influential as the Torit Mutiny of 18 August 1955. It was the first time that Southerners openly displayed, in bullet and blood, their pent-up anger and political frustration with their colonizers: the British, the British-favored northern Sudanese Arabs and their Egyptians surrogates. In the days leading up to Sudan independence from the British, the colonial administration under the British and the Egyptians had anti-South Sudanese state policy. Southerners were administratively and educationally ill-prepared and politically marginalized.

As if that was not enough superfluous provocation, any concerted attempt by leading Southern politicians, traditional leaders/elders, and few educated individuals, was dismissively characterized, in the word of the first Sudanese Prime Minister—Ismail Azhari, as “childish complaints of the Southerners.” Entirely excluded from the political and economic preparations for the independence of the Sudan, and with no further room or outlet to air their grievances, the Equatoria Corps of Torit town could not take it anymore. They decided to rebel on August 18th, 1955, after they were told to relocate to Northern Sudan, purportedly to participate in the celebration of the Sudan independence, the very occasion in which principal Southerners were summarily excluded and sidelined.

August 18th, the day the first rebellion was initiated against the Khartoum government in Torit town, later became the D-date of South Sudanese armed struggle. The Anyanya One of Joseph Lagu was launched on 18 August 1962. The Clandestine Group or the Underground Movement of Dr. John Garang and his dissatisfied members of Anyanya One ex-soldiers planned the launching of what later became the SPLM/A on 18 August 1983. Unfortunately, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol and his money issues, plus other various unforeseen political events, necessitated the revision of the date to May 16th, 1983. So ingrained in the political psyche of South Sudanese armed struggle is August 18—the Torit Revolution Day of August 18, 1955—that the current President of the Republic of South Sudan, H.E. Salva Kiir Mayaardit, declared it on August 18th, 2007 as the official annual commemoration day of the war veterans who fought for freedom, justice and equality for South Sudanese.

Torit town, too, produced the first war veterans of South Sudanese armed struggle. Among these courageous heroes were the veterans of Torit Mutiny of 1955: General Emilio Tafeng and Ali Gbattala etc. Secondly, among the sons of Torit town of Anyanya One armed struggle were leaders like Father Saturnino Lohure. Fr. Lohure was the real political leader of the Movement before he was brutally assassinated on 27 January 1967 in Uganda on his way to and from Southern Sudan. Torit also produced laudable and gallant leader in the persons of Joseph H. Oduho: an Anyanya One war veteran and the cool mind with unmatched experiences that provided the political wisdom during the hectic days of the formation of SPLM/A when the egotistical squabbling between Dr. Garang group vs Akuot Atem camp almost miscarriaged the nascent Movement. In the same ranks of great Torit sons are leaders like the late Brigadier Paterno, Angelo Lopuro, Captain Jada, and Major General Obuto Mamur among plentiful others.

Of all the Southern towns captured by the SPLM/A during its first glorious days of the war of liberation, it was Torit that became the first meaningful official headquarters of the SPLM/A leadership under Dr. John Garang. The captured of Torit from Jalaba by the SPLM/A heralded the age of SPLM/A as a serious revolutionary army to contend with and not to be mistaken for the rag-tags soldiers of Anyanya Two Movement. The SPLM/A leader, Dr. John Garang, in his media/propaganda war with the north, exploited and made a big deal out of the capturing of Torit from El-Bashir regime; a scenario that was later vividly replayed when Al-Bashir recaptured the town in 1992 from the SPLM/A and Dr. Garang was there to receive the taste of his own medicine.

Not only was Torit town the political headquarters of the SPLM/A, it too became its very name after the fateful split of the Movement in 1991. The downfall of Mengistu’s Derg government in Ethiopia that was the political godfather of the SPLM/A, coupled with the Nasir coup and the resurgence of Jihadistic Al-Bashir regime, put a considerable amount of pressure on the SPLM/A and profoundly weakened it to the point of near annihilation. Almost the whole of Upper Nile region was retaken by the enemy and so was Bahr al-Ghazal region. With Western Equatoria solidly in the hand of the Arabs, it was Torit and Eastern Equatoria region that SPLM/A had small breathing space till Torit was retaken too. In the height of South-South self-destructive partisan hostilities, the SPLM/A faction under Dr. John Garang was renamed as SPLM/A-Torit while the faction under Dr. Machar and Dr. Lam took Nasir to its acronym. Thus, there was SPLM/A-Torit under John Garang and SPLM/A-Nasir under Riek Machar.

It was not only in Torit that the first revolutionary armed struggle for South Sudan independence started, it was also where the last big final battle was fought. Just as SPLM/A was teetering on the verge of extinction at the hand of Al-Bashir Jihadistic army, the Movement, with the help of Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the USA, rebound and swiftly recaptured many towns from the advancing NIF operation “Seif Obuur” that had easily recaptured all towns under SPLM/A with the exception of Nimule where they were badly pinned down by the besieged SPLM/A soldiers.

The new impetus from the resurgent SPLM/A compelled the NIF government from their much publicized nationwide planned declaration of the final defeat of the rebel and the end to the southern war and onto the negotiating table. By then, it was all apparent, to both parties, that any talk of the military solution to the war was all but an entertaining illusion with no tangible corroboration from the ground. The SPLM/A, contrary to their revolutionary songs of “Khartoum abukku dom, 91”, was never going to realize their intended triumphant march to Khartoum and neither was the Khartoum government going to defeat the rebels at the barrel of the gun. So, grudgingly and resignedly, both warring parties went to the IGAD peace talks.

But with the SPLM still relishing their recent victories against the Arabs and their appetite whetted for more, they launched a successful armed operation that first re-recaptured Kapoeta and then Torit. While Al-Bashir was not that fired up by the fall of Kapoeta to the SPLM/A, he was not going to accept anything less than an SPLM/A withdrawn when it came to Torit. The recaptured of Torit by the SPLM/A almost derailed the Peace Talk and threatened to stillborn the CPA till Khartoum government, with the backing of Equatoria Defense Force, retook Torit town.

Honorably, not only was Torit the first Southern city to fire the first shot of the first Southern uprising, it was also the last Southern city to fire the last shot of the Southern armed struggle before the advance of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war and gave Southerners their political freedom and independence from the north. As such an important town in the historical struggle of South Sudanese people, Torit town has the honor of being the capital city of Eastern Equatoria State in the newly independent nation of South Sudan.

It was this sublimity of Torit town that H.E. Salva Kiir Mayaardit, the current president of the Republic of South Sudan, acknowledged in his 2007 speech in Torit, on the occasion of opening a newly built Secondary School in commemoration of Dr. John Garang, when he solemnly proclaimed: “since Torit is a town of history, I am declaring 18 August a national day because it will remind us of what happened on the 18th August 1955 when our people mutinied in this town.”

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wel: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB), graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA. He is the author of Who Killed Dr. John Garang, the editor of the essential speeches and writings of the late SPLM/A leader, Dr. John Garang, published as The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3, as well as a co-editor (with Simon Yel Yel) of President Salva Kiir’s speeches before and after independence: Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South SudanYou can reach him through his email: paanluel2011@gmail.com or Facebook page

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Comments
  1. The reality is the reality why the founder of the Equatoria Corp was not mention he was called Atada Hillier,who refused to Surrender to Arab for those who were Surrender resulted to killing in Himodong.The Leader of the Equatoria Corp he fought the mutiny in torit and after that he fought alone in his home Village Jebel Atada His daughter is still alive living in hai Game Residential Area juba i wish you the all media to get fact from her,because She give birth to Seven Children one graduate from juba university in Khartoum College of Social and Economic Studies,Department of Statistics and Demography.Am work with National Bureau of Statistics as inspector of Health Statician in the Government of South Sudan.Am greatel happy about my grandfather for his Struggle that leds to our independent long live Equatoria Corp,long live Founder of Equatoria Corp Atada Hillier Long live SPLA

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  2. Dengda says:

    I acknowledge your extra information @ Fredrick, also I thank fPanluel wel for being fair minded and unbiased. History can’t be rewritten, in the Bible there is genesis and new testament but these books serves the God message. Same like Torit Muntiny, Anyanya 1& 2 and SPLM are our historical events and serves South Sudan. I wish academicians have included these important events into our school curriculum for our children to know. History is history and can’t be change. I do disagree with my tribesmen ( Dinka) who try hard to narrow to the history to Dinka favour of recent war fought by 80% Dinka under the leadership of Dr. John Garang. But we forget to acknowledge Torit War may have been fought by 80% Equotorians too. Once again thank Panluelwel, history is our blesses and must be tell fairly without favour or manipulation.

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  3. Frederick Orlando says:

    Mr i a greed with the input you put on, but you needs to know
    the exact history of the mutiny itself without taking side. Event government official were sent to identified who are the leader of 1955?
    And how can some one of 1965 be the leader of 1955? while he was a priest does he has Soldiers or not ? you needs to known the reality before narrating something which is inconsistent with the reality.

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