By Simplicius Chirinda
Juba,South Sudan, January 9, 2014 – The Zimbabwean government was this week battling to evacuate three of its remaining embassy staff in South Sudan like many other countries with diplomatic relations in the war-torn country.
The landlocked country – the newest and youngest state, which got its independence in 2011 after successfully seceding from Sudan, has been facing clashes between estranged government players over the last 23 days.
The political crisis, which has since taken a tribal dimension, pits forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit of Dinka ethnic origin and his former Deputy Riak Machar from the smaller Nuer tribe.
The Zimbabwe embassy staff in Juba, the South Sudanese capital city are among the thousands seeking to vacate the country as fighting continues.
But while these Zimbabweans are seeking to get to the nearest South Sudanese border exit and leave, a few of their other countrymen have made the unfolding crisis which has so far claimed the lives of 1 000 people, displaced over 200 000 and exiled 32 000 according to the United Nations – their own struggle.
They are putting up a fight but a different one. Their fight is one without the cocking of guns and launching of mortars. It is a fight to save lives. A fight for mercy as the Americans would call it.
Tapiwa Gomo is the Head of Communications in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Juba the capital of South Sudan.
He is one of the Zimbabweans working to help the troubled South Sudanese civilians now resident in many UN camps scattered around the troubled country.
“We are trying our best to alleviate the situation. As you would imagine it is difficult, we can’t access some areas, if there is fighting we can’t risk some of our staff members by deploying in areas where there is fighting,” Gomo told Radio VOP by phone from Juba.
Although Zimbabwe is far away from Juba, Gomo and his other countrymen names supplied but cannot be published for professional reasons are in the thick of things in Africa’s newest state.
Radio VOP spoke to some of them on strict conditions of anonymity due to the nature of their job.
“I have been here for three years, I saw the birth of South Sudan as a country and to be honest I see myself as one of the midwives. Currently I am trying to organise examinations for the displaced children who are in our camps,” said one of them.
“It’s difficult but we are managing.”
Many of these Zimbabweans are employed by the United Nations and other aid agencies. One of them is a pilot for the United Nations supplier planes, Radio VOP was told.
Currently, most of them are based in the Jonglei State capital – Bor and Unity State’s Bentiu. Bor town has witnessed some of the worst fighting – exchanging hands between government forces and rebel forces aligned to Riak Machar several times.
The South Sudanese forces have been trying for the past week to recapture the town which is currently in the hands of the rebel forces. Many people in the area are from the Nuer tribe.
At the time of writing some of the Zimbabwean humanitarian workers were battling to assist the thousands of internally displaced South Sudanese citizens.
Speaking to some of the internally displaced people over the phone heavy gun fighting could be heard in the background – a sign of the heavy fighting in Bor.
Don Deng Garang, who lives in one of the UN camps in Bor where the two Zimbabweans are based, told Radio VOP that the world has abandoned them.
“The Americans have taken their people out, the Chinese are doing the same and we are left alone. Had it not been for the UN we could have all been wiped out by war,” Deng Garang said highlighting the work that the Zimbabwean humanitarian workers and others are doing.
Apart from the UN crew there are many other Zimbabweans who are playing various roles in stabilising the situation in the troubled country.
One such Zimbabwean who asked for anonymity is a woman who works with the South Sudanese government.
To demonstrate her commitment to help solve the crisis in what has become her second country, the woman airlifted her family to Nairobi, Kenya when the conflict started on December 15 but immediately returned to help the government find a solution.
She has worked with the South Sudanese government since early 2000 under the auspices of the United Nations.
She has helped set up several self-help projects for women and has been helping integrate those who migrated from the Sudanese capital Khartoum start a new life in the new state after the secession.
These aid workers are not alone. Haru Mutasa, a Zimbabwean journalist corresponding for the Middle-East based Al Jazeera television station has also helped explain the conflict to the world through her reports.
According to a crisis report released by the South Sudanese government on Wednesday, 201 000 people have been internally displaced with 60 000 of those in UN bases across the country. Of these, 85 000 are from Mingkaman, Awerial County and Lakes State. At least another 32 000 have since sought refuge in neighbouring countries, mainly Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
But on the ground the humanitarian conditions have been worsening in the past three weeks. Outbreak of diseases such as malaria and acute diarrhea were reported in Awerial, Bentiu, Juba and Malakal.
Meanwhile, talks to end the fighting are continuing in Ethiopia but for Zimbabweans in Africa’s newest country working amid war is just another call of mercy.