SPLA Day is marked annually on May 16, in remembrance of a group of Sudanese soldiers who opened fire in the barracks near the city of Bor, following the collapse of an Addis Ababa brokered peace deal between the southern and northern regions of Sudan. These mutineers would form the core of SPLA.
The rebellion born on this day in 1983 was termed as Anyanya Two, led by John Garang De Mabior. It was a continuation of the Anyanya One struggle, aiming to end the oppression and marginalisation by the government in Khartoum.
The devastating civil war that claimed millions of lives finally seized the world’s attention, culminating in an internationally brokered peace deal in 2005, paving the way for a referendum on independence and South Sudan’s independence on July 9, 2011.
Despite South Sudan’s historic attachment, this year’s commemoration was observed more quietly than usual, as once again South Sudanese had to suffer the consequences of a civil war.
On December 15, 2013, a long—standing political dispute within the ruling party erupted into armed confrontation, pitting forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against those aligned with his by then ousted and now reinstated First Vice President, Riek Machar.
The violent conflict has been characterised by scorched-earth tactics, ferocious massacres, systematic gang rapes, recruitment of child soldiers and even forced cannibalism. Both sides have been accused of war crimes. The U.N. estimates that tens of thousands were killed and over 2.4 million people were displaced.
Agriculture Minister and leader of the opposition party SPLM-DC, Lam Akol, used the commemoration to call for the separation of of the national army (SPLA) from the SPLM ruling party to avoid a recurrence of violence in the country.
The first thing that must be done is; we have a national army that reflects the diversity of the country and which has nothing to do with any political organisation.
“The first thing that must be done is; we have a national army that reflects the diversity of the country and which has nothing to do with any political organisation,” Akol told the media in Juba.
The opposition party leader blames the December 2013 crisis on the failure of the SPLM to create an inclusive army that is independent of the party.
The Red Army Foundation, a former child soldier wing of the of the SPLA organised this year’s ceremony at the John Garang Mausoleum in South Sudan’s capital Juba, attended by a few hundred citizens, two government ministers and the envoy of the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Sudan.
The Chairman of the Red Army Foundation, Deng Bol Aruai, called for unity adding that there had been no tribalism during the liberation struggle, the CPA period and the referendum on self determination of South Sudan, referring to the current ethnic rivalries caused and exacerbated by the recent conflict.
Stephen Dhieu Dau, the newly appointed Minister for Trade and Industry, said during the commemoration that there was need to remember the objectives of the 1983 revolution and protecting its fruits. He called upon South Sudan’s citizens to uphold the legacy of those that lost their lives to achieve independence.
His counterpart from the Ministry of Education, Deng Deng Hoi, said that SPLA achieved what he termed as the “impossible” as a result of their unity, adding that is was important for citizens to acknowledge their unity as strength and power of the country. He said the youths played a major role in the liberation struggle and they have now an equal task in ensuring peace, reconciliation and healing in a country recovering from war.