Moses Leth, pastor of the Uniting Church’s South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Brisbane’s Coopers Plains narrowly escaped death under fire. Ashley Goetze reports.
As the world’s newest sovereign state struggles to navigate tensions between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups, media outlets speculate that South Sudan runs the risk of mirroring nearby republic Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Yet the true issue lies not in tribal discrimination but a fearful head of state, whose desperate actions to cling to power have resulted in an estimated death toll of 10 000* and left more than 413 000** displaced.
Brisbane Nuer Faith Community pastor Moses Leth was there when tensions flared in December. His wife Elizabeth Leth and their eight children, who live in southern Brisbane, feared for his safety.
“It was a very very terrible thing when first I heard because he just plan it so shortly. He wasn’t meant to go to Sudan this year but he just came one day to tell me he wants to go to build a school,” says Mrs Leth.
Just two days after arriving in the capital city Juba, Moses, a Nuer man, found himself a target of President Kiir Mayardit’s Dinka-loyal military.
“When I ring I hear the bullets going on toot toot toot toot! I can hear the bullet on the phone!” says Mrs Leth.
“Then Moses, he told me, ‘Elizabeth, I don’t know if we will meet again’ and I say ‘What!’ and he close the telephone. My heart cut down and I just want to throw my heart and I start to cry. I don’t want to tell my kids, so I stay in the garage.”
Although news arrived days later of Moses’ safe passage to Kenya, many were not so lucky.
Duol Thian, a Nuer Faith Community member is mourning family members. “We heard from our relative there. All of us, we have some relative who was killed in Juba. I have had four relatives [killed]. Very terrible, very hard,” he says.
“If you speak my language, they will kill you even though you are not armed and even though you are not a politician. And this is why you can see that it has gone from politics to tribes,” says Mr Thian.
UnitingWorld has created an appeal to help provide safety, food and water for people fleeing their homes in South Sudan. For more information go to unitingworld.org.au
*According to the International Crisis Group
**According to the United Nations