Gurie demolitions: Soldier recounts missing land to bury son
“When I went to the Payam to request permission to bury my child on my own property, they completely refused. They told me to my face that I should not bury my child anywhere near the destroyed plot of land,” John Sabadori Mohamdo.
It has been years of hues and cries for communities in Gurei North, in Central Equatoria State, as the administration has been unleashing terror on them, destroying their houses and livelihoods.
The worst incident was in 2009 when a demolition campaign was said to have left more than 30,000 people homeless.
The return of relative stability following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought thousands of people pouring back into the former garrison town, transforming it into a bustling commercial centre.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Gurei North community is determined to file a case against the commissioner of Juba, accusing him of demolishing residences without giving a warning earlier this year.
Here, we meet John Sabadori Mohamdo, a father of nine and husband of two, who lived in one of the blocks before he was evicted.
“Surprisingly, they arrived with a grader, damaging several of our homes. They demolished my house, rendering me and my family homeless, “he says.
John had called Gurei home since 2007, until the heavy machinery and security details came knocking, leaving more than 500 buildings demolished in their wake.
From the outside, he appears calm, but the military man is no doubt bleeding from the inside, probably doing as much as he can to swallow his frustrations. He has serious fears.
“They will silence you if you speak. They’ll tell you not to talk, and if you do, they’ll put you in the back of the car and drive you someplace, “he says.
It is not simply the state of homelessness that has caused so much grief for the father of nine. On April 20, one of his children died, bringing a double tragedy to the family. In ordinary times, the family would grieve the loss of the child. But this was no ordinary time. They had to start pondering where they would bury their child. And being a man, this was his burden.
“When I went to the Payam to request permission to bury my child in my own property, they completely refused. They told me to my face that I should not bury my child anywhere near the destroyed plot of land,” he says.
Payam officials said that they were following the laws and regulations, and that was all.
He told The City Review that an elderly man asked him to speak to a neighbour to get him a small parcel of land so that he could bury his son, and later on after he had acquired his own land, he could exhume the body and re-bury it.
Unfortunately, all of his neighbours were in the same situation. While this might read like a fairy-tale, John went to his old farmer, who offered a piece of his land for burial.
His streak of bad omen didn’t abandon him. And right after burying his son on someone’s piece of land, a heavy downpour that followed swept the body to the river.
“What they did in Gurei North was inhuman,” he says. “You can’t ruin people’s lives like that. We did not have a health facility, a football field or a trading centre. And even the fact that I am a soldier did not count.”
In March 2022 when the homes were demolished in a similar fashion, throwing families in the cold, Central Equatoria State (CES) Ministry of Housing, Land and Public Utilities accused a syndicate of illegally upgrading and re-demarcating Gurei North Residential area from the 3rd to 4th class.
Minister of Housing, Land and Public Utilities Flora Gabriel Modi told journalists that the land grabbing syndicate was displacing people as a first step towards grabbing their land.
John on the other hand says the areas were surveyed as third class. Due to fighting in 2013, he was unable to access the plots until 2018 when he returned and settled with his family.
He claims that he was taken back when a fresh survey was issued, bringing his house down. He is particularly concerned about his children, some of whom attend City Dove Primary School, which he believes is also under threat of destruction.
“When you destroy a school facility that means you have destroyed the future,”
Residents appeal for justice
Gabriel Wani has filed a case at Kator High court against the commissioner of Juba County regarding the demolitions.
The commissioner appealed against the case and sought that the case is transferred to another Judge.
Wani who has lived in the area for almost 13 years says before the demolition his life and his family were happy and staying without fear not until this year 2022 when he saw people who came with graders and they started braking houses, they reached to appoint of arresting people and taking them to the police station at Rajaf payam.