Southern Sudanese celebrated in Juba Friday, showing their support for the referendum on independence. Traditional dancers and local artists created a lively atmosphere on the streets of the southern capital. Pro-independence demonstrators chanted and waved posters showing a single hand, the symbol representing a vote for separation.
The South Sudan Referendum Commission, the body administering the vote, held a ceremony to mark the start of voting, and hundreds waited outside the Nyakuron cultural center to be addressed by various officials.
Starting Sunday, southern Sudanese will cast their ballots in a week-long vote to determine whether they secede from the north and form their own country. The mood in Juba seems to support the predictions of analysts, who widely expect voters to choose separation.
Those participating in the ceremonies and demonstrations talked about their hopes for the referendum vote, now that it is only days away.
“This referendum will clear some of the traumas we have and we hope it will take away the stress and bad feelings we have had some years back. I think this is one of the events that will give us back our new nation, free us from oppression, free us from war, give us services. We think this referendum will give us a lot of opportunities, development – psychologically and physically,” said one resident.
Local musician Kang John Jok spoke about the vision of what an independent southern Sudan will be.
“I want to see a unified south Sudan. A south Sudan that has the beauty of its diversity respected by the nation,” he said. “I want south Sudanese to be free from sharia law and hold on to take in the human laws, not sharia laws.”
One woman, Eunice Phillip, urged women to come out and vote. According to the referendum commission, 52% of the registered voters are women.
“I know that we have very tight schedules during the day,” Phillip said, “but let us take it as a promise that us women should come out and vote.”
The referendum commission has said it is “100 percent prepared” for the vote, for which nearly 4 million people are registered.