South Sudan’s Mundari IDPs return home with nothing but hope

South Sudan’s Mundari IDPs return home with nothing but hope
Mundari IDPs pack belonging to depart Juba and head to the villages in Terekeka. [Sheila Ponnie, City Review]

They left empty-handed when deafening sounds of the guns bridled Terekeka villages. And just like they left, the Mundari Internally Displaced Persons are ready to stream to their settlements with nothing but hope. 

Their tribulations began when a fierce fight broke out among the Mundari cattle keepers in the areas of Magurkule Payam, Lutepe, Kworojik and Roburu Payam in Terekeka County, Central Equatoria State, on December 28, 2020.

It did not only leave a trail of deaths and destruction but desperate 3,000 families were also expelled from where they called home. 

Tension and desolation forced the Impact Response Committee and traditional leaders in Terekeka to hold a peace conference in January 2021 to end the cyclic deadly communal fights. 

On Monday, February 15, the Chairperson of Impact Response Committee Lodu Philip Jembeke told the media at Young Men Christian Association Pre-Primary and Secondary School in Juba that the committee was implementing the resolutions of the conference by returning the Internally Displaced Persons back to their homes. 

He said that life was streaming back in the area but it came with another baggage-the skyrocketing humanitarian needs. Most families lost their property and have to begin from scratch albeit on empty hands. 

 “These citizens really are in need of support because during the fighting they lost almost everything, and now that there is peace and we are returning them back to their homes. I would like the state government and the humanitarian agencies to help them with tents, food and medicines,” he appealed. 

Sad tales

We found Joseph Bule, a 32-year old father of three who lost all he possessed in a single night of raid in Korojik Payam, in Terekeka. The attackers torched his house as his family watched in disbelief in the cold. 

“My wife and children watched that man with a gun lighting the fire starting with the roof, the whole house got burned and I couldn’t even say a word.’’

Bule recounted how they lived in harmony till all hell broke loose due to retaliatory attacks inspired by cattle theft. It degenerated into a series of attacks as rival groups engaged each other and making the area ungovernable. 

“We were leaving peacefully but when the cattle keepers started coming to the home areas [then] everything changed. These people stole anything that they found.’’

Even though Bule is happy to return home, the dark memories of his house being brought down by arson still haunt him and remain fresh in his memory.

 “Now that we are going back, the bad memories of that day are just coming back. The memories of seeing our houses being burned and we could not even do anything,

  “I am even wondering how I am going to start going to look for wood to build a new house, getting grass for building yet we are even in the dry season all grass in the forest are burned, ”he lamented. 

“We are happy that we going home but the truth is we are going to empty place maybe we will find the ashes of the houses but we will just clean that place and sleep in an empty space,” he said.

Mundari families waiting to leave the makeshift camp in Juba for there settlements at home. [Sheila Ponnie, City Review]

Back but with nothing

The journey to return back home took them to a school in Juba where the school administration gave then cooking materials to keep them going. But life is expensive for them. They have to buy everything even though they live in an empty pocket. 

“Here we buy charcoal for cooking even vegetables and water are being sold. [These are] things that we used not to buy because we had our own gardens back home.”

A visit to the school gives an outlook of a busy environment. Bags are packed and children are dressed as lorries hoot ready to ferry the families back home.  

 Apart from the material support, their chief concern is security. They hope the government will secure their makeshift residences.

This sort of fear is visible in the eyes of Mary Ayenbuni, 36, a mother of six children trying to pick her pieces after the displacement.  

“We do have the fear but that’s our village and our home. For how long are we going to fear? We cannot refuse to go back home,” she said.

Mary prays each day that cattle keepers will this time realise the importance of peace and tranquillity. 

South Sudan Ministry of Interior Major General Abednego Akol Ayuong assured the Mundari IDPs of their security. But the situation on the ground still remains unknown even as members of the community mend ties.

“I guarantee them that the area is secured and we already have deployed National Security Personal and police for one month now to safeguard the area. So there is nothing to fear,” said Ayuong.

Part of the efforts is the ban preventing herders from grazing around the areas with their guns.

But Chief Yohanna Achik Windiit said the security mechanism should be upped to much the weight of the danger. They are also calling on the government to provide them with food, medical supplies and tents.