JUBA, Sudan – John Garang, the rebel-turned-peacemaker who led southern Sudan in a 21-year civil war, was laid to rest here Saturday amid an emotional outpouring of grief but without the deadly violence that had rocked the African nation earlier in the week.
Garang, was killed July 31 in a helicopter crash in the mountains of southern Sudan, less than a month after being inaugurated as Sudan’s first vice president. In subsequent days, at least 130 people were killed in rioting fueled by suspicions that he had been a victim of foul play.
Garang was eulogized Saturday as a Moses-like figure who liberated disenfranchised Sudanese, but he did not live to see the fruits of his struggle.
“As sure as day follows night, the torch he has kindled shall not be extinguished. Not under my command,” said Garang’s deputy, Salva Keer, who took over as head of the Southern People’s Liberation Movement.
Garang, 60, had taken office July 9 under a landmark power-sharing agreement with the Islamist regime in Khartoum. Keer, the last surviving founding father of the SPLM, is expected to be sworn in as vice president today.
Several thousand mourners lined streets and flooded the courtyard of All Saints Cathedral in Juba, a government-controlled regional capital that Garang had several times attempted to invade during his rebellion.
“It’s ironic. He finally took Juba,” said Danny Effie, publisher of Sudan Mirror newspaper.
Grief and sadness gripped the city, with mourners standing along hot, dusty roads to pay their respects as the procession of cars and trucks passed.
“It was not his time to die,” said Agnes Lion, 21, choking back tears as Garang’s coffin was brought to the burial site. “He was a man of justice, equality and unity. He did not want the Sudan people to be divided. We are one family.”