IN THE WARZONE
Trapped South Africans reach Egyptian border after precarious rescue mission from Sudan conflict zone
A ‘multi-SA government department’ effort has assisted 38 trapped South Africans to be bused out of Sudan, said Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman. Four who missed the bus are to be taken out on Tuesday.
Thirty-eight South Africans who had been trapped by warfare in Sudan for 10 days reached the Egyptian border in two buses on Tuesday morning after driving through the night from Khartoum, in an evacuation mission arranged by the South African government.
Four South Africans missed the buses because of communication problems and danger in Khartoum, but Gift of the Givers boss Imtiaz Sooliman, who helped the government arrange the evacuation, said another bus had been arranged to take them out on Tuesday.
And three South Africans made it out by hitching a ride on a French military helicopter from Khartoum to neighbouring Djibouti, the French embassy in Pretoria confirmed to Daily Maverick. Others had found their own way out of the country, to South Sudan or Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation confirmed the evacuation operation in a tweet on Monday, saying : “Our nationals and embassy staff are on their way out of Khartoum. I can’t disclose he security and logistics of the operation. But they are moving out. We are in constant contact with them.”
Sooliman said the 38 South Africans and seven Angolans left Khartoum at about midday on Monday on the road to Egypt in two buses owned by a Sudanese bus company Good Transporter.
They have no armed escort — unlike the US diplomats who were evacuated by their military over the weekend.
“No, it seems along the way the different armed groups are not interfering with the foreigners,” Sooliman told Daily Maverick. He said the buses had passed through only two military checkpoints en route to the border and had experienced no problems.
And Ilse Young, a South African who has been living in Khartoum since 2008 with her husband Adam, confirmed to Daily Maverick that at about 8pm South African time the two buses were passing Nizeiza, about 400km north of Khartoum and halfway to the Egyptian border – and hoped for safety. She said they had already passed through a few checkpoints manned by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) without any problems.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Bullets on our doorstep’ – South Africans trapped in Sudan describe ‘unreal, surreal time’ as they wait for rescue
Sooliman had said before that it appeared the two main Sudanese military forces which have been fighting each other for 10 days would probably not be a problem, “we’re not sure about getting into the desert and the bandits”.
He said the buses had stopped near the border at about midnight for rest and refreshments and at 5am on Tuesday had continued to the border where they still were.
Sooliman said that apart from the 38 South Africans on the two buses, another 29 South Africans remained unaccounted for. Four had arrived at the designated pick-up point in Khartoum too late, mainly because of encountering many military checkpoints along the way.
Another problem was that the cellphone network had been down.
“So nobody could speak to anybody. So nobody knew the buses were coming at that time. So arrangements were being made from yesterday, telling people to go to a certain place and wait there. Fortunately, quite a few people were in the same place where the bus came to,” said Sooliman.
Other South Africans had fled to Djibouti – like the three carried by the French – or to Port Sudan or to South Sudan, Sooliman said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Foreign states conduct high-risk staff evacuation from Sudan
And later on Monday evening Sooliman said they had organised a third bus to evacuate the South Africans left behind – and other nationals. .
“The bus is on the way back from Port Sudan to Khartoum. The will sleep outside Khartoum, enter in the morning, be on site at 11am.
“[The] Brazilian ambassador called. He has 12 Brazilians but only seven in Khartoum. We’re putting them on, plus three South Africans, maybe a Palestinian family and two South African Scottish terriers who got left behind.”
These are apparently the Young’s dogs. Sooliman said on Tuesday morning: “The sadness was evident in their eyes when they saw the luggage but were not included in the trip. This was very emotional for the owner.
“Four Filipinos, two US citizens, possibly a Palestinian family and who knows who else will be part of the evacuation today.”
Young, who has been helping coordinate the South Africans for the evacuation, had said earlier on Monday afternoon: “My heart is broken for the ones who could not make it.”
She explained that the main problem had been that cellphone signals died on Sunday night so the organisers could not confirm the arrangements for departure. She said they could not leave Khartoum later than midday for security reasons.
Young said there was some urgency as Eid had ended and they were expecting the relative lull in the fighting to end soon.
She said for the 48 people on the two buses they journey had so far been uneventful. In the first few hours they had passed through two checkpoints of the regular government military, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), which are fighting the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary.
“One came on to our bus with his weapon and told us: ‘SAF good, no problem’ and walked off. The second checkpoint was in the Omdurman area [across the Nile from Khartoum] with a heavy military presence of the Sudanese Armed Forces.”
The Youngs, both originally from Gqeberha, met in Khartoum in 2008 where they have been living ever since.
Adam Young had been managing one of the food divisions of a major local conglomerate while his wife, who came to Khartoum to teach at an international school, is now rearing their twins full-time.
When Daily Maverick spoke to her last week Ilse was heartbroken at being forced to leave their happy life in Sudan and full of praise for the warmth and hospitality of the ordinary Sudanese people.
Sooliman said the evacuation was a multi-SA government department effort. “It’s not our operation. We got involved for moral support and then got sucked into the whole intervention. It’s a combined effort.” DM
This is a developing story and may be updated as more information becomes available.
The number of those departing on the first two buses was subsequently amended from 41 to 38.