10 January 2011 – Mateo Lodu Tongun could barely contain his excitement as he waited to vote in the Southern Sudanese referendum at Peiti Polling Centre, some 20 kilometres from the regional capital of Juba.
Born in the early 1930s in Peiti Boma, Mr. Tongun lost his sight to a bout of river blindness in 2005. Unable to walk without the support of a stick, he was accompanied by his brother and two wives to the polling centre.
Living six kilometers from the polling centres, the blind voter said he and his family were lucky the Central Equatoria Government had hired taxis to bring voters to their balloting areas.
“I do not know how I was going to come to vote without this free transport,” he said.
Sitting under a tree at the Peiti Polling Centre in Juba County, the Bari tribesman recalled his experiences during the two-decade civil war. “Our village became a centre of attacks, abductions, and lootings … when the war broke out in 1983.”
The violence forced him and other residents to abandon Peiti for a small island within Peiti Boma on the River Nile.
“Life was so hard at the banks of the Nile,” Mr. Tongun said. “My family and I had to depend on pumpkin and its leaves, roots, and some leaves of natural plants, called limut in local dialect.”
Formerly a father of 10, Mr. Tongun lost five children to meningitis is the early 1980s. “There was no clinic there (on the island),” he said. “If you fell sick with diseases like meningitis and watery diarrhea at that time, you would die.”
After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the herder was able to graze his animals in the plains of Juba. But in 2009 he lost 300 head of cattle and 600 goats to cattle raiders from Terekeka County. Eight people died in that attack.
Despite his difficult past, Mr. Tongun has optimistic hopes about the referendum.
“I am voting so that my children will live in peace and go to good schools in the future.”