With nearly 4 million registered to vote in southern Sudan’s referendum on independence, and over 60% turnout confirmed, it is to be expected that voters would come from all aspects of society. Everyone from a 115-year-old woman to a murder convict has cast a ballot in what they say is a vital vote for southern Sudan's future.
Southern Sudan’s oldest voter
At the Sadaka primary school polling center, Rebecca Kadi comes to cast her ballot. She looks frail as she arrives in her wheelchair – with good reason. At an estimated 115 years old, she is thought to be the oldest person to vote in southern Sudan’s referendum.
Rebecca Kadi Loburang Dinduch, believed to be the oldest south Sudanese, leaves a polling station after casting her vote in Juba January 12, 2011.
Kadi has seen many changes in southern Sudan in her lifetime. The country has gone from colonial rule to civil war and now, she hopes, to independence. She waves a secession flag at the crowds who have gathered to watch her cast her vote.
“We are voting for the referendum and it’s our goal. There is nothing else we need to do but separate from the north,” she says. “Let Salva Kiir lead people as God wants because there is not any other way we can stay with Arabs.”
Her granddaughter, Sarah Modi, says Kadi has always talked about the importance of independence from the north.
“She is saying that she is not voting for herself but for the young ones because she would like to leave the young ones in peace by the time she is not alive,” says Modi.
At Juba Central Prisons, Chol Nyong, a prisoner sentenced for murder, says that his situation will not stop him from voting in such an important poll.
“He is saying that he is not feeling well in the prison, but they are not going to lose the referendum like that, because they are not staying in good condition,” relates a translator.
Nyong says the prisoners who cast their ballots are glad to have had the opportunity to support their government and its independence.
“I want to say something to our government. We all know that the government is still having no full powers, but we are the one bring them authorities. We are the one to give them that full authority. And you the government, you don’t forget us and we will not forget you,” he says. “We at the prison here, we are very happy with the voting because we have voted for the independence of our country.”
According to Patrick Demabela, the leader of the prison centers, says most prisoners have already voted and the prison expects only a few stragglers to vote in the coming days.
“In the last five days around 500 plus prisoners have voted. We are expecting a few to come and vote because some of them were released before voting. So others are coming from their homes. Those who are within the prison, they have already voted. So we are expecting some who were released before to come and vote,” he says.
Lines at polling centers across southern Sudan have abated as voting enters its final few days. The vote is set to end on Saturday, although it may be extended for overseas voters in Australia, where massive flooding has immobilized much of the country.