The curse of being a ‘light skin’ in South Sudan

The curse of being a ‘light skin’ in South Sudan
Sandra Banks

On Wednesday, former Miss South Sudan (2012/2013) Sandra Banks took to Facebook to pour out her frustrations over the kind of treatment she keeps getting from various officials in South Sudan because of the color or her skin.

“First of all, I am born to a South Sudanese mother and a Canadian father. I was born in Khartoum as that’s where my mother’s family had fled from the war here. I was raised by my mother in Sudan and moved back to Juba after I completed my medical internship on the first of October 2011, just a few months after we gained independence, because South Sudan is my country. I have never lived in Canada,” she wrote.

Her trouble started at Customs on Tuesday, this being an area which always has heavy presence of traffic police officers particularly during morning and evening traffic. Immigration officials are also domiciled here, always on the lookout for those without “papers”.

“I was at Customs Market getting some groceries when I was approached by a man in plain clothes who directly asked me for my “immigration papers”. Feeling disgusted because I am repeatedly mistaken for a foreigner, I told him I’m South Sudanese and asked him if he was aware of the number of people or tribes in this country that have brown skin tone.

“A bystander lady interjected, telling him ‘what is wrong if she’s brown, there are many of us here who are brown’.” 

“The woman was joined by another, and the two kept ranting till he left,” she wrote.

But the immigration official was not convinced that she was actually a South Sudanese national. After she was done with shopping, the immigration official notified his colleagues. All of a sudden, Sandra was confronted by at least ten men who were keen on seeing her passport, which she did not carry. She was a ‘foreigner’ and that is why no reference to national identification card was made by the officers.

“I opened my purse and took out my Nationality ID card and driving license. He immediately took them out of my hand.” Then he said, “So you are South Sudanese.” I told him that’s what I told your colleague and pointed at the guy I spoke to first. He immediately looked away and started walking away from us; I hope he walked away in shame though. This officer in slippers started laughing, I told him it’s not funny and grabbed my cards, telling him this is ridiculous and wrong as this country has many like me,” she wrote.

Sandra is not alone. Most nationals suffer being called foreigners when they are not, while some foreigners, because of the same skin color perceptions, are regarded as nationals. They are not stopped anywhere. 

The practice has made lighter skin for South Sudanese nationals some kind of a ‘curse’.

Driving license

“I remember the time the traffic policeman near J1 told me why my driving license has five year validity when I’m not South Sudanese.

I told him the card has a personal number, which proves I am South Sudanese. He told me it’s a forged license and I needed to show him my passport. A traffic policeman asked me for my passport. Where does that occur?” asks Sandra.

But there is problem bigger than the harassment and numerous stops. It is the question of identity. What does it mean to walk in your own country with a ‘foreigner’ tag?

“I also remember the time at the airport some years back when the immigration officer confiscated my passport, threatening me of arrest and that j won’t travel because he said he believes 100% that I am a foreigner and accused me of carrying a forged document. Luckily another officer who knew me as a doctor at Juba Teaching Hospital spoke to him and confirmed I was a local.

He took a picture of my passport and my phone number, saying he’s going to get to it and that I should come and see him when I return. “Absurd!” writes Sandra in her rather long post that had been shared 77 times by the time of going to press.

Her short-term remedy to traffic policemen henceforth is to play Mary Boyoi’s song whenever she is pulled over.