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WARZONE ESCAPE

SA government and Gift of the Givers still battling to rescue all exiting South Africans from war-torn Sudan

SA government and Gift of the Givers still battling to rescue all exiting South Africans from war-torn Sudan
Passengers fleeing from Sudan arrive at Wadi Karkar bus station in Aswan, Egypt 25 April 2023. Heavy armed clashes between the country's military and rival paramilitary groups have occurred in the capital Khartoum and other parts of the country since 15 April 2023. EPA-EFE/STR

A third bus carrying eight South African and other nationals – plus two dogs – fleeing fighting between two rival Sudanese military generals, left Khartoum on Wednesday, heading for the Egyptian border.

A first group of 38 South Africans and seven Angolans left Khartoum on Monday on two buses and reached the Sudan border on Tuesday morning. Another thirty managed to cross the border into Egypt that day, but the remaining eight only got across at 4.30pm on Wednesday, after a wait of 26 hours. This was the report from Imtiaz Sooliman, head of rescue charity Gift of the Givers, who is helping the South African government to evacuate South Africans and others from Sudan.

Sooliman said the delay at the border had been caused by bureaucracy, complicated by the fact that some South Africans did not have passports.

Ilse Young, one of the 38 who got across the border in the first batch, told Daily Maverick on Wednesday evening that the group – including Young, her husband Adam and three-year old twins Isabella and Duncan – were dining in a hotel in the Egyptian town of Aswan. “We’re at the hotel. We’ve had some food and a shower. I’m looking at others in the group walking into the dining room and I don’t recognise them because they’re so clean,” she said laughing. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sudan’s Bashir and allies out of jail, Khartoum fighting flares

But the struggle to get all South Africans out is not yet over, as Sooliman and Clayson Monyela, spokespersons for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) made clear. 

“The South African government is still working hard to ensure that its citizens and those from SADC and other countries are evacuated safely,” Monyela said in a statement. Sooliman said that eleven South Africans, as well as some other nationals who had made their own way to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, were still stuck there on Wednesday evening. Sooliman and Dirco were trying to get them out either by Saudi ship or Jordanian aircraft. 

“There are options for three but I can’t discuss that yet,” Sooliman said. “I’m hoping by Friday we will have everyone on the way home.” He added that three South Africans had decided not to leave Sudan. 

South African assistance

Monyela confirmed that the South African government had organised and paid for the first two buses to reach Egypt. He thanked Gift of the Givers for organising and procuring the third bus, which was still en route to the Egyptian border on Wednesday evening, carrying South Africans and other nationals who missed the first two buses. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Bullets on our doorstep’ – South Africans trapped in Sudan describe ‘unreal, surreal time’ as they wait for rescue

“We are particularly grateful that Gift of the Givers was able to accommodate our request to include the nationals of other countries that had requested support from the South African government at a time when our two buses had already departed. “This was not an easy task. Our officials stayed in the danger zone and were only evacuated with South Africans and other citizens of other SADC countries. 

“Facilitating travel passes for those who had left without passports delayed entry into Egypt and other countries. We are also grateful for the cooperation of the foreign ministries of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who are working with us to ensure entry of people without the necessary papers for normal and regular entry into their countries. 

“Despite Gift of the Givers not being physically in Sudan, they were able to share information with Dirco officials in Pretoria, and they were, in turn, kept abreast of developments by South African government personnel on the ground. Evacuations like these depend on collaboration and partnerships, and we thank all those who are cooperating with us.”

But what about the dogs?

For Ilse Young and her family, having reached safety in Aswan with the rest of the first group, a big concern became reunion with their two Scottish terriers, which were left behind in Khartoum on Monday when the Youngs felt there wasn’t space for their dogs.  They were put on the third bus which left Khartoum on Wednesday. 

“Right now it’s a bit of a wing and a prayer,” said Young, adding that an American had promised to look after the two dogs on the journey to the border in the third bus. “So shame, they’re in their crate in the bus as we speak. So we really hope they make it over the border.” At around 7pm, Young said she’d heard the pups were okay. 

But there were two major concerns for the Youngs. The first was getting the dogs across the Sudan-Egypt border. “I am so nervous. The border is horrendous. At the moment, most people spend about 72 hours crossing the border.” This is largely because on the Sudanese side, the border crossing was only open between 12 noon and 6pm. 

Young said their other concern was flying the dogs back to South Africa. She said Dirco had connected them to someone who was trying to assist. Young said it would be amazing if the dogs could fly on the same plane as them. 

“The big thing I learnt on this trip is about water and the different levels of thirst that can exist. I’ve never drunk so much water in 48 hours in my life.” DM

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