South Africa


Sudan Civil War — a traumatic view from Bus 3 on a dark escape from warzone atrocity

Sudan Civil War — a traumatic view from Bus 3 on a dark escape from warzone atrocity
Bus 3, sourced and funded by Gift of the Givers, left Khartoum on Tuesday, 25 April. Photo: Gift of the Givers

The mental, physical and emotional strain on individuals and families caught up in a civil war, the logistics, challenges and risks weigh heavily on any soul. Human suffering at an unprecedented level permeates an already physically destroyed environment as man turns on man, all civility, compassion, care and mercy exit the human composition as man becomes monster. 

Take a ride on Bus 3, sourced and funded by Gift of the Givers, scheduled to leave Khartoum on Tuesday, 25 April at 11h00, but which first has to arrive from Port Sudan to be recycled. Buses are scarce and at a premium, this is war, nothing follows the norm. 

The anxious passengers are tormented by delays as gunfire and shelling are heard throughout the city. After several hours, hearts sink, the owner of the company with his excellent intelligence gathering on the ground indicates it’s not safe to travel — there are skirmishes throughout the city, aerial bombardment on the road to Egypt and uncertainty everywhere. 

Yet another delay as the prospect of all-out street fighting within the suburbs is imminent, will they ever get out alive? The passengers, due to complete network failure and zero communication already missed Bus 1 and 2 on 24 April. Is Bus 3 ever going to make it?

On the morning of the planned departure, it took the best part of 90 minutes at 02h30 to convince a family to leave the place of safety they had escaped to, 200km away from the capital Khartoum after witnessing wanton destruction, killings, atrocities, and experiencing the horror of bombings, incessant firing and damage to hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructure. They just couldn’t find the physical or emotional energy to pick themselves up and go, paralysed by the constant images looping in their mind’s eye reminding them of what happened in suburb Khartoum 2, currently the greatest hell hole on earth. 

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

Holding the hand, whispering gentle words of encouragement, bringing out the positive in all the destruction and negativity is part of the therapy; a lot depends on the individual and their make-up. 

As they make the move, get up and leave their place of safety to pass convoys of APCs, the images come screaming back. This is PTSD at a monumental level, but they have to be strong, it is about survival. This is the last chance to get out on Bus 3, the ultimate option for escape. 

Bravely they push on, anxiety levels rising as Khartoum comes in view but adrenaline kicks in and realisation dawns that they are stronger than they at first seemed. They arrive at AK Compound, a place of solace and peace amidst the mayhem all around. 

Evacuees, Sudan

Evacuees aboard Bus 3, sourced and funded by Gift of the Givers, left Khartoum in Sudan on Tuesday, 25 April. (Photo: Gift of the Givers)

Life-threatening trials and tribulations

But the drama continues, the bus driver has an epileptic fit, the bus breaks down and scores of military personnel are entering the city suburbs. Is this another bus failure and is it curtains for these people as all-out fighting is about to erupt? 

Faith and belief are important elements, they meditate, and supplicate. The ever reliable owner of Good Transport makes good on his promise of efficient transport and a new driver arrives. The bus is repaired and his intelligence gathering says now is the time to move. They hop on — eight South Africans, two Americans, one Briton, one Nigerian, one Zimbabwean, four Sudanese and four Palestinians; a combination of diverse nationalities united in pain and suffering. 

Humanity is about sharing, holding hands and enhancing social cohesion. The owner of Good Transport is spot on — the road is uneventful to Dongola but comes with a new challenge. The Sudan traffic police have closed the road to Argeen — the border post where passengers alighted the first two buses and where the South African diplomatic staff are to meet Bus 3. It’s also the place where all the documents have been lodged for those with no passports. Argeen is flooded with thousands of traumatised families, representative of the spectrum of the world’s nation-states. Each individual has a story to tell. 

With a leap of faith, Bus 3 follows the path to Ashkate in Wadi Halfa — the new border crossing — and arrives at 09h30 on Freedom Day. 

Evacuees, Sudan

Evacuees aboard Bus 3, sourced and funded by Gift of the Givers, left Khartoum in Sudan on Tuesday, 25 April. (Photo: Gift of the Givers)

Bureaucratic barriers to safety

The group can’t cross to Egypt until the South African diplomatic staff arrive with the documentation. There are new logistics as the diplomats have to change direction from Argeen to Ashkate, which is on the opposite side of the Nile River. Egyptian rules, regulations, bureaucracy, red tape and who knows what, significantly delay the process. The already exhausted diplomatic staff, who dealt with the emotional anguish of eight South Africans held back at the Egyptian border for 26 hours because of no documents, now have to make a dash to another part of this huge country.  They have already spent eight hours on this arduous journey, exhausted and burnt out as they reach the ferry crossing point — just after it closes. The next boat is at 5am on Friday.

In the meantime, in the midst of 40C heat and a lack of food, water and shelter, a South African woman experiences incredible anxiety as she is told by border officials that her husband and daughter, who are US citizens and have no passports, will not be able to cross without US Consular support. The ramifications of this are too ghastly to contemplate, the logistics equally daunting. If the lady stays, and the SA diplomats leave, she is trapped, if she leaves and the USA Consular support doesn’t arrive, she is separated from her family, who knows for how long.

Out of reach

It’s midnight, the cellphones have died and we have lost all communication. We feel for them, no food, no water, no shelter, emotionally distraught, anxious and broken. We can’t reach them. 

Our behind-the-scenes diplomacy continues at a frenetic pace. This is what disaster intervention is all about. A brigadier promises that the US family of the South African lady will be permitted to leave Sudan together when the SA diplomats arrive. 

The diplomats are first on board the 5am ferry. It’s a one-hour journey, they’ve reached the other side, cover the last 50km drive to the Egyptian border and arrived a short while ago.

They are now walking across to the Sudanese side to locate our people and the two Scottish terriers of a South African family that could not take them on Monday. 

Today is Friday, day of prayer, supplication and hope. The freedom we hoped for on 27 April for those trapped may yet come, even though a day later, but it will come. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those caught up in this crisis as we await a speedy resolution and for humanity to prevail. DM


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