At polling stations across the regional capital Juba, hundreds of voters were already waiting well before dawn to seize their opportunity to have their say on whether the impoverished south should break way from rule by Khartoum after five decades of devastating conflict.
“We are standing in the queue to step forward to independence,” said David Akol, as he waited with hundreds of others to vote at the memorial to veteran rebel leader John Garang, who died shortly after signing the 2005 peace deal with the Khartoum government that provided for Sunday’s vote.
“The day that we have waited for so long has finally arrived.”
Yar Mayon, who grew up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, said: “I came here in the early morning because I wanted to show just how much I wanted to vote.
“It was so important to me I could not sleep,” she said.
As the sun rose shortly after 07:00, Wilson Santino said: “This is a new dawn because we vote for our freedom.
“We have been fighting for too many years but today this vote for separation is also for peace. Soon the sun will be shining over a free south Sudan.”