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Socialismes en Afrique

Françoise Blum
Héloïse Kiriakou
Martin Mourre
et al.

Première partie : doctrines et corpus. 2 : en marge du pouvoir : contestations

Sudan: No Working-Class Land

Abdullahi A. Ibrahim

Texte intégral

1This paper will specifically discuss the unrelenting fight of the Sudan Communist Party (SCP) and the Sudan Workers’ Trade Union Federation (SWTUF) in colonial and postcolonial Sudan to equalize wages between workers in northern (typically described as Arabs and Muslims) and southern (typically described as “negroid” and “heathen”) Sudan. The latter were heavily discriminated against in colonial wage policies. I will argue that overlooking the politics and sentiments of communist and working-class nationalism has obscured race politics in the country, which have typically been viewed through the prism of a Muslim/Arab semantic framework. Martin Daly laments that a conference held in Washington D.C. in 1987 to discuss the Sudan crisis had no representation whatsoever of working-class leaders. “Our consideration of the whole range of questions associated with socioeconomic development,” he argues, “should have benefited from a view informed by working-class experience.” He hits the nail right on the head when he says, “Recognition of the role of intellectuals does not imply a disability of others to speak for themselves” (Daly 1987: 179).

  • 1 Proceedings of the Round-Table Conference on the Southern Sudan, 16–25 March 1965: 173.

2Southern Sudanese have always categorically described northern Sudanese as “sons of Zebir Pasha,” the notorious statesman-cum-slave trader, à la Tippu Tip, who hunted for slaves in southern Sudan in the nineteenth century. The epithet is so potent that at the Round Table Conference held in 1965 to resolve the southern problem, Abd al-Khaliq Mahjub, the Secretary of the SCP (1949–1971), found it too sweeping to be true. With his back to this historical racial wall, Mahjub retorted that he had no quarrel with those who kept reminding us of the skeletons in our closet, but would also remind detractors that the sons of Zebir established a communist party that had the interests of all Sudanese at heart.1

3Was this communist optimism regarding the potential of racial harmony in the country mere rhetoric? If not, what grounds did Mahjub, the brain behind the “the outstanding brains” of the SCP (Metrowich 1967: 72), have for this sense of hopefulness? This paper will examine the SCP’s practices in order to see whether this buoyancy on the part of the general secretary of the party was justified. It will highlight the history of the practices of the party and the working class over which it held sway throughout the late 1940s until the late 1960s, largely to end the disparity in wages in the country and remove the injustice of paying southern Sudanese less than northerners, which had originated in the colonial period.

4In addition, Ahmad Sikainga, an astute scholar of labor policies in Sudan, who grew up in its hub, Atbara, touchingly lets us know what we have omitted in Sudan studies when we “delegitimize” the communists. He argues that the link between the labor movement and the SCP raises important issues: “In the first place, it defies the essentialist notions that Muslim societies can only be understood through the prism of religion” (Sikainga 2002: 6).

Defining the terms of reference

5I will pause briefly here to size up the two concepts under review in this paper, namely the SCP and the colonial wage disparity in Sudan. In order to gain a better understanding of Mahjub’s racial optimism, one needs to have an idea of the weight of his party in Sudan politics and to have a good view of the extent of wage disparity in the country and its colonial origins.

6African scholarship on radicalism has taken scant notice of the SCP in connection with the perennial political crisis in the country; although it has been aware that something revolutionary and unusually instructive was going on in Sudan, it never came around to engaging this experience. The same SCP that published plentifully in Arabic has been inaccessible to scholars of radicalism in Africa. However, these scholars have always had a lingering hunch that the SCP’s various experiments hold the key to a better understanding of radicalism in Africa. Only Ben Turkok pointed to this potential, in 1966 and again in 1987. In 1966, he admitted that his ignorance of Arabic precluded him from studying the SCP experience, which, with South Africa, has a long history with Marxism that is unlike the rest of Africa. He looked at a single newsletter published in English by the SCP and a few other writings, and concluded that the party’s tactic of navigating alliances and enmities with the military and emerging intact was unique, and had not been exhibited in any other neo-colony (Turkok 1966: 57, 60, 67). In 1987, Turkok described the party’s pragmatic—yet principled—practice for establishing a strategically correct relationship between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism, which has evaded many others in Africa, as “quite extraordinary” (Turkok 1987: 19, 153).

7I will now offer some electoral statistics that will serve to stress the party’s mass following, particularly in urban centers. In the 1965 elections for the constituent assembly, it received 20,516 out of 82,876 votes in Khartoum Province, and Mahjub ran neck-and-neck with Ismail al-Azhari, the first Prime Minister of Sudan, in the famous Omdurman South constituency in Khartoum Province. In the 1968 election, however, Omdurman South sent Mahjub to Parliament with flying colors (Abu Shouk, al-Fatih 2009: 295, 313), which is why how it has come to be dubbed “Moscow” since then. The party also won twelve of the fifteen seats assigned to high school and college graduates in the 1965 elections. These deputies were then voted out of the Assembly in December 1965 by an Islamic alliance that was apprehensive about the rising influence of the SCP. Ironically, the party easily won a by-election in northern Khartoum, the site of the constituent assembly itself, while the assembly was concluding its debate on tightening up an anti-communist law. In addition to Mahjub’s seat in the 1968 election, the party also won Atbara. This working-class town elected al-Haj Abd al-Rahman, a former fitter with the Railway Department, deputy secretary of the SWTUF and a member of the Central Committee of the SCP, on a workers’ alliance ticket. In the 1986 election, the general secretary, who had succeeded Mahjub, who had been tragically executed by President Jaafar Nimeiry after the allegedly communist-inspired July 1971 coup, and a member of the Central Committee were elected to Parliament in the capital. Two other known leftists ran as independents in their communities and won.

8Although obscured in the literature on African radicalism, the SCP has been noted for its influence among the working class. Peter Cross laments the state of the history of the Sudan labor movement, continuing by saying that this neglect would “appear to be unwarranted” because the Sudan working class achieved unionization early and effectively. He makes the further point that the SCP’s activity could not be understood without reference to its grassroots activities among the working class, which played a decisive role in the nationalist movement in the country (Cross 1997: 217–218).

9The specific details of the wage disparity between northern and southern Sudanese can wait to be investigated by a better-qualified historian than this author. It will suffice here to highlight just a few aspects of it so that the reader can have a sense of the politics of this injustice. We see that the wages paid to southerners were calculated against those paid to northerners with less expertise, and then reduced. In 1950, the British made the first attempt to introduce wage scales and link the southern structure with that of the North. The link was found to be the “similarity between the best local non-transferable southern artisan and the northern second-class artisan, both in their skill and the pattern of budgets of the income groups to which they belonged. Therefore, the scale for the best skilled local artisan was constructed to be about seventy-five percent of the scale for the second-class artisan in the North, thus giving them the same real wages” (Wakefield Report 1951: 23). Southern artisans in the Public Works Department in the Upper Nile were paid based on their respective scales in the North “reduced by fifteen percent, which represented the difference between the cost of living in Khartoum and in Malakal [the capital of the Upper Nile Province]” (Wakefield Report 1951: 24).

10Wage disparity also prevailed in the South itself. Labor was rewarded differently in its three provinces. Equatoria Province, the home of the Zande Scheme and a focus of our investigation here, did not fare well, even in comparison with the two other southern provinces, Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile. A commission chaired by R. C. Wakefield appointed in 1950 to set the wages of unclassified personnel in Sudan (Fawzi 1957: 104, 137), adopted three regional systems in the South. Its 1951 report is commonly known as the Wakefield Report. The commission identified Equatoria as region “A,” and rates of pay for employees were designed around the cost of living in the Zande towns (Yambio and Meridi). These rates were the lowest (2,650 to 8,400 Egyptian pounds) even when compared to Bahr al-Ghazal (Region B) and Upper Nile (Region C). The rates for the former varied between 3,100 and 8,750 Egyptian pounds, while for the latter, they varied between 4,250 and 9,600 Egyptian pounds (Wakefield Report 1951: 51–62).

11Wage disparity between the two parts of Sudan was a colonial legacy. It found its rationale in the British concept that Sudan comprised two races: the advanced Arab Muslims of the North, who received the lion’s share of colonial “development” schemes, and the African “negroids” or “pagans” of the South, who missed out on these schemes. The British were careful to disrupt any contact between these two communities lest Islam and Arabism lead southerners away from their culture. This racial policy was responsible for the “Closed District” policy of the early decades of the twentieth century by which the South (in addition to parts of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region) was administered separately from the North until the British relocated it to a suitable territory in East Africa. Within these closed districts, the British drew a line between Muslim Arab Africa and “negroid pagan” Africa. Christian missions were given a free hand in the closed districts, and monopolized evangelization and missionizing and the education of natives. Muslim nationalists were green with envy, of course.

12Various sources of western and colonial knowledge went into the construction of this wage system that disadvantaged the South. Racial and business theories reinforced each other in this calculation. From a white racist standpoint, the wage disparity stemmed from a colonial “patriarchy” that tied “morality to money.” “There was a deep abiding belief that primitive people did not know how to deal with money.” In assuming moral authority over “childish” colonized people, the colonizers also “assumed responsibility for the means to express that behavior.” For the colonial patriarch, money was evil and “too much of it in the hands of the inexperienced would lead only to harm.” The British colonialists thus depressed Zande wages in order to save them from being corrupted by the “hitherto unheard of amounts of money” the project had placed at their disposal, “where very little had existed before” (Collins 1983: 329).

13Not knowing how to handle money is a common factor for our species. As Collins rightly points out, not even many Western elites know how to deal with it, which is why they resort to personal consultants to help them. The Zande working for the scheme wanted money “and knew its value in their local context. If they spent money on something “foolish,” that usually means it was spent on something that the British thought they should not buy” (Collins 1983: 229–330).

14The missions threw their own two cents at this racial construction of wages. This Western belief in the inability of primitive people to handle money or to “know what was best for them” was “deeply instilled in the missionary mind.” Missionaries in southern Sudan were “strong supporters of wage control, for Christian teaching expounded at length on the sin stimulated by money.” There was another side to the coin, though: because they were hard pressed for funds, the missions “did not want to compete in a free market for skilled manpower if they had to pay commensurate salaries.” Collins puts his finger on a cultural irony here: “Yet it is astounding how little either officials or missionaries thought of the contradictions, almost hypocritical, between their free-trade views of economic relations in general and totalitarian state control of the southern economy in particular. […] If they had been true advocates of free trade, they would have let the Southern Sudanese himself decide how to spend his pounds and piasters—whether to wallow in misery in a white shirt and hat, with a pack of cigarettes or remain blissfully happy sitting under a mango tree with merissa [beer] and a bark cloth wrapped around his waist” (Collins 1983: 330).

15Business thriftiness came to reinforce, or rationalize, this racially inspired measure when it came to determining wages. This business-minded rationalization took two forms.

16Of the two theories of wage determination, the Wakefield Report adopted the one that maintains that “labor of the same grade should receive different wages in different regions” just like paying labor “at a different rate from labor in another” (Wakefield Report 1951: 13). The Report disapproved of equal pay in no uncertain terms: “To attempt, in spite of economic differences, to pay the same real wages in all regions would be to do the less developed regions a great disservice. Were real wages fixed too high in relation to the productivity of labor, commercial concerns would economize in labour, and unemployment would ensue” (Wakefield Report 1951: 14). The Report was critical of the other theory that finds that “wage rates should deliberately be raised in underdeveloped areas to the level of those in more developed regions.” This position argues that the recipients of these high wages in developed areas would feed themselves better, thus enabling them “to work at a greater intensity, their output will therefore be higher, and so they will be worth the high wages” (Wakefield Report 1951: 14). However, the Report was not sure if these raised wages would be “wasted on buying unnecessary luxuries” instead (Wakefield Report 1951: 14–15). Liquor was commonly identified as the luxury southerners would indulge in when they were paid wages that were not commensurate with productivity. Further, extravagant wages would lead to laziness, because employees “can obtain all the money they desire for maintaining their conventional type of life by working for less time.” The high-wage argument, the Report states, “puts the cart before the horse,” because an “[i]ncrease in real wages must be slow and keep in step with the increased output of labour, but must not precede it” (Wakefield Report 1951: 15).

17This policy of differential wages was, however, untenable in an economy in which the government was the largest employer, and in a region of a country in which development had never been a colonial concern. The economic terms on which the Report justified depressing wages in the South left a great deal to be desired. The determining factor in wage discrepancy in the country was not the economy but the dictates of the “Southern Policy” adopted by the British in 1930, which was geared towards protecting the culturally vulnerable southerners from the “superior” northerners. When the government revised its infantilizing of the South to incorporate it into the country at large, it should have considered this cultural history when determining wages. Economic frugality should have given way to political prudence. Wage disparity came to haunt Sudan for a long time into the independent era.

18Economic frugality reared its head again in the course of wage determination for the Zande Scheme. This was a comprehensive development project under which the Zande, the single Bantu community in the southwestern-most areas of Sudan, grew cotton and sugar cane. Processing these products went hand in hand with growing them. Anzara became the industrial center of the Scheme’s cotton industry. Robert Collins discusses its transition from a self-sufficient enterprise originally envisioned to help Zande “social emergence,” to a commercial enterprise designed to produce profits. The originator of the project, John D. Tothill, the Director of Agriculture in British Sudan, insisted that “the price paid to Azande for cotton be sufficiently high to provide a real incentive to cultivate.” British officials in Khartoum opposed Tothill’s plan; for them, it was a financially unsound “subsidized price structure” (Collins 1983: 318). This transformation of the project into a profit-generating enterprise was completed when it was disconnected from an advisory committee comprising local administrators, experts, and project officials that had been established to “consider the social implications of the Azande development programme.” In divorcing itself from local politics and aspirations, the project became a “remote body whose unexplained activities and secrecy were fertile ground for their [Zande] suspicions that the purpose of the scheme was exploitation, not development” (Collins 1987: 319). The starkest case of subjecting the project to “sound business principles” was when Anzara cloth in Zande lands was sold “at 20 per cent higher than in Khartoum” (Collins 1983: 326).

The History of southern nationalism no one wants you to know

19Wage disparity began to irk the southern workforce as early as the 1930s. This brief history will leave out the many strikes southerners went on to protest against their dismal salaries (Daly 1991; Beshir 1974; Cross 1997) and will focus on two aspects of the evolution of unionism in the South. We will first describe the rise of the Southern Officials Welfare Committee (SOWC) in 1947 and its fight for wage parity with the North and will go on to describe and account for the labor unrest in Anzara, the site of the industrial complex of the Zande Agriculture Scheme, in 1955.

20In the early 1940s, the British had second thoughts about the southern policy of isolating the South from the North they had adopted for decades. In anticipation of strong southern aversion to adhering to the constitutional changes under way in the North, which were believed to be preparing Sudan for self-rule at an unspecified future date, the colonial administration held the Juba Conference on 21 June 1947, to vet the views of southerners in the presence of handpicked representatives from the North. The southern effendis (school graduate government employees) made a 180-degree change in their position on the second and last day of the conference, from opposing integration into northern constitutional evolution on the first day of the meetings to endorsing it wholesale on the second day. This astounded James Robertson, the Governor-General’s civil secretary. He was convinced that an understanding between Judge M.S. al-Shinqiti, a diligent northern delegate to the conference and the southern effendis had been reached on equal pay (Robertson 1974: 108).

21Southern nationalists have always refused to recognize the decision reached by the Juba Conference that, for better or worse, supposedly mandated the unity of Sudan (Oduho, Deng 1963: 15–17; Wai 1973: 16–18; Alier 1990: 18–21). One of their strongest arguments is that the northerners led the southern delegates into the trap of unity. Al-Shinqiti became the devil incarnate in southern nationalistic circles for his role in turning the southern effendis away from their reservations about unity with the North to fully endorsing it. With hindsight, falling for the temptation of equal pay is now seen as having stooped too low on a matter of vital importance like the fate of their area of the country. In his recently published memoirs, Stanislaus Abdalla Paysama, the veteran southern politician and delegate to the Juba Conference, said that nothing of the kind reported by Robertson had taken place at Juba (Paysama 1990).

22The change of heart shown by the southerners at Juba was dramatic. Southern effendis, who had described themselves on the first day of the conference as the younger brothers of northerners who could not swim in the same political river with them, suddenly chose to test these same tumultuous waters. This change astounded the British chair of the meeting, and he wanted to know what had caused it. Of course, the British had done “a great deal of canvassing beforehand among the southerners” in order to persuade them not to accept unqualified unity with the northerners. As usual, their misgivings were that “the Northern Sudanese were not fit to administer the South” (Beshir 1968: 64–65), and according to a district commissioner posted to the South, they believed that tutoring such as this “was needed, indeed justified, lest the conference turn out a farce” (Daly 1991: 239). Al-Shinqiti was active both publicly and behind the scenes. During the sessions, he outspokenly—and almost on his own—represented the northern nationalists’ views as encapsulated in their famous slogan: “Down, Down Colonization. No Separation for One Nation.” Behind the scenes, however, he was negotiating the terms of the unity deal with southern effendis.

  • 2 SAD [Sudan Archive Durham] 521/11/24-25, 20 March 1948.

23He struck a nerve, apparently. With hindsight, although falling for pay rises as a matter of national concern, may appear demeaning, as I have said before, the disparity in terms of service between northerners and southerners was a real one, and southerners were highly offended by it. The Right Reverend Bishop A.M. Gelsthrope wrote to Margret Perham and James Robertson on the subject after touring the South in 1948, saying that the impetus for elite southerners to unite with the North was to obtain equal pay. By achieving this goal, they would rid themselves of their inferiority complex and the “abd” (slave) mentality vis-à-vis the northerners, whose ancestors had enslaved them in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, there was a caveat to this, according to the bishop. No sooner had southerners achieved parity with northerners than they would part ways with them by asking the world at large to support their claim for a separate national identity. This could only happen if the missions were to be given free hand in the country for five more years.2

24The demand for wage parity in colonial Sudan was picked up and fought for by the Southern Officials Welfare Committee (SOWC). We will now highlight its efforts to redress this wage injustice. For contemporary southern elites and activists, the SOWC was a non-event, and no reference is made to it in mainstream histories of the South. By being totally focused on the injustices suffered by the South under the northern nationalists in government, southern nationalists and their historians have ignored the anti-colonial roots of southern activism. Muhamed O. Beshir’s two popular books on the southern Sudan question (1968; 1975) mention SOWC once in passing when listing the organizations that emerged in the 1940s expressing a political consciousness in the South. The committee is described in one book as having been formed in 1947 and being concerned “with wages and salaries.” Thanks to a successful strike, Beshir writes, the salaries of its members and southern laborers were improved (Beshir 1975: 46). It is worthy of note that Beshir only mentions the disparity between northerners’ and southerners’ wages when certain political developments led to a positive adjustment of southern terms of service (Beshir 1968: 57–58, 68); he does not seem to be interested in the union dynamics and political consciousness we have been investigating in these pages.

25This omission of the SOWC from the history books is an odd one. It merited a brief, yet meaningful, mention by Joseph Garang (1932–1971), a southern member of the politburo of the Communist Party and minster of the first cabinet of President Nimeiry’s regime (1969–1985), in his popular booklet, The Dilemma of the Southern Intelligentsia, which first circulated in mimeographed form published underground by the SCP in 1961, and was republished in 1971 by the Ministry of Southern Affairs.

26Although not devoted to the history of the SOWC, Severino Ga’le (2000) and Muhammad Khayr al-Badawi’s Qitar al-‘Umr (2007) stressed the anti-imperialist nature of the Association, namely, its opposition to the British-informed differential terms of service between northerners and southerners. Ga’le traces the impetus to form the Association to the late 1930s. In this early stage of the society, the southern effendis petitioned the Governor of Bahr al-Jabal Province (Juba was its capital, and it was renamed Equatoria after 1947) seeking redress for their professional plight. His response was a rude one; after bragging about the width and breadth of the territory under his power, in which southerners’ fathers and grandfathers were buried, he told the petitioners to go and tell their colleagues that they had officially been severely reprimanded, and that was the end of the story as it is recorded.

27The Association was formed in 1947. From Ga’le’s history of its rise, we gather that southerners could no longer tolerate the disparity between their terms of service and those of the northerners. He tells of going to Juba and visiting Nimra Talata (Number Three), a neighborhood where southern officials lived. He could see that even the houses allotted to northern dockworkers at Juba river port were more decent than those of Nimra Talata, let alone those assigned to northern officials like him. These injustices led southern officials to form the SOWC in 1947. Juba was made its headquarters, and it had chapters in Kapoeta, Toit, Yei, Amadi, Meridi, Yambio (Bahr al-Jabal Province), Malakal (Upper Nile Province) and Wau (Bahr al-Ghazal Province). In March 1947, these officials petitioned the governor-general through the governor of Bahr al-Jabal Province to look into their complaints regarding their dismal terms of service and their demands for parity with northerners. In June of the same year, as mentioned above, the Juba Conference was held. Apparently, al-Shinqiti’s alleged success in persuading the southern elites (and not southern notables and chiefs) to vote for unity was due to the fact that he addressed the parity issue, on which the southerners had strong feelings. They waited in vain for al-Shinqiti to deliver, however, and had to go on strike for three days in October 1947 to protest against their bad terms of service. A contingent from the Southern Corps was sent by the British to cow the protesters and the town, and some of the leaders of the movement were arrested, but the southern soldiers in the corps had a change of heart after they discovered the reason behind the strike, and are said to have mellowed considerably in their handling of the situation (Ga’le 2002: 142–152). Robertson, the Civil Secretary at the time, reports that southern terms of service were reconsidered after the conference (Robertson 1974: 104).

28Muhammad Khayr al-Badawi, a northern Sudanese who was living in Juba at the time and working for the government-owned Juba Hotel, describes a more inclusive SOWC, of which he was a member, as were many other northerners in Juba. He also attributes other roles in community reform and education to the association. Owing to its care for the professional promotion of its members and community reform, the SOWC was a southern “Graduates’ Congress,” in al-Badawi’s view. The congress was a northern nationalist organization comprising modern school graduates (effendis), to which the ultimate decolonization of the country in 1956 is attributed. Al-Badawi is the only person who published the text of the memorandum submitted by the SOWC to the governor-general. He translated it into Arabic in the heat of the moment in 1947 and smuggled it out of Juba to be published in the Sawt al-Sudan daily newspaper in Khartoum (al-Badawi 2007: 147–150).

29The anti-colonial beginnings of the southern nationalist movement emerged clearly in the petition, in which three nationalistic elements stand out.

30Their call for equal pay with northerners should not be dismissed on the pretext that the South was backward. Southerners are Sudanese citizens and are entitled to equal treatment with other citizens. The pretext that southerners would squander raises on liquor is untenable. Few would do so, and many others would not. Drunkenness is a problem faced by all countries great and small, suggesting that no one can judge this formidable problem. They protested against the division of the country into southerners and northerners in the first place. The administration was guilty of splitting citizens apart, which was unheard of in other countries. It is true that southerners look darker, but then so do a great number of northern Sudanese, and no wonder, because southern blood runs through their veins.

31They protested against the excuse for paying southerners less than northerners on the grounds that living in the South was not as costly as it was in the North. They argued that living standards in rural areas in both North and South were the same; they lived in towns and demanded to obtain the urban salaries enjoyed by northerners.

32They also asked for equal opportunities with northerners in education. They objected to two cardinal colonial educational “sins”: entrusting southern education to missions and sending only a few students to Uganda for higher education. These measures had been adopted by the British in the context of their Southern Policy to develop this part of Sudan separately from Arab and Muslim northern influences until the day its territorial identity was determined. The speculation was that the South would be annexed to either Kenya or Uganda. In anticipation of this change of national identity, schools began teaching English to southerners. The SOWC attacked this policy from all sides. It wanted the government to open schools because the missions did not have the means to support a meaningful education for southerners, and when they did so, they asked for school fees that were beyond the means of families. Uganda, on the other hand, was highly selective regarding which southern students to admit to its schools. A sizable number of these students would be rejected by the Ugandans and returned empty-handed. The petition asked for the teaching of Arabic in southern schools in order to enable graduates to continue their education in their own country rather than beg for it from somewhere else.

33Finally, the petition asked the governor-general to improve the living standards of the southern educated classes in order to encourage families to send their daughters and sons to school. Their shabby lifestyle as government officials was a bad advertisement for education, and other families who saw their lowly lives would be discouraged from sending their children to school.

The war of northern nationalisms

34The fifty-second session of the first self-rule Sudanese Parliament (Saturday, 31 December 1955) stands out for the unique way in which it addressed citizenship and race construction. In this session, elite and working-class nationalisms collided and parted ways, a situation that has lasted to this day. The session was devoted to discussions of the section on citizenship and its rights in the transitional constitution. Hasan al-Tahir Zaroug, the only communist MP, asked the following question:

In the second section of the constitution we find the following: “No Sudanese shall be denied his rights to hold public office, private jobs, or appointments in any position, trade or work with reference to his place of birth, religion, race, or sex.” This is indeed a great statement. However, what do we find in reality? We find five thousand registered unemployed in Khartoum alone. We also find that the wages paid to southerners are far less than those paid to northerners, even when they perform the same work.

35The Speaker, Justice Babiker Awadallaha, who later headed both the judiciary and the executive, interjected:

Can the honourable member explain to us the relationship between southerners’ wages and this constitution?
I mean that there shall be no racial discrimination. It does not stop here. We also find that women teachers are paid less than male teachers and are subjected to different and inferior terms of employment. The government discriminates against women teachers even when they have the same qualifications and work in similar schools.
This is also off the point.
This is why this section of the constitution remains idle talk until legislation is implemented to establish the principle of equal pay for equal work, increase the rate of employment and reform terms of service by means of directed development of the national economy. (Silayman 1971: 172–176)

36This early confrontation between northern Sudanese nationalists will reverberate in the dark corridors of Sudanese racial politics. Although barely noted in the writings on race and gender tragedies in Sudan, this conflict between elite and working-class nationalism is real and epic.

37At a time when organized labor, influenced by the communists, was relinquishing its “wages of northernness,” northern Graduates’ Congress nationalists were unwisely grabbing the spoils of victory over colonialism to the exclusion of southerners. The pan-Sudan process of Sudanization after the removal of the British turned into a strict program of northernization. Only six out of 734 southerners were given administrative positions. Southerners who wanted the British to stay to “southernize” their part of the country rather than “Sudanize” it (Daly 1991: 382) were distraught by this “northernization” of the process. The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Disturbance in Southern Sudan, August 1955 (1956), attributed the 1955 mutiny of the Southern Corps in Equatoria Province, which killed 255 northern civilians (including sixteen women and twenty children), to the disappointment of southern officials with the Sudanization process. They were shocked that the ruling party, the National Unionist Party, should have turned its back on the extravagant promises it had made to them to respect Sudanization opportunities in both the South and the North (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 110–115).

38The excuse for this northern invasion of the South was worse than the deed itself. Ismail al-Azhari, the erstwhile leader of the nationalist Graduates’ Congress and the prime minster of the self-rule government (1954–1956), asserted that “no southerner was fit to occupy a post above Assistant District Commissioner” (Daly 1991: 383). The report found promoting unqualified southerners to senior Sudanization jobs to be beyond the terms of reference of the Sudanization Commission, which had been entrusted with this task. Although recognizing the disastrous effects these promotions might have had on the traditions of the civil service, it suggested that the government, and not the commission, should have stepped in and promoted these southerners “on political grounds” (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 112).

  • 3 Article in al-Saraha, 2 November 1954.

39Southerners in office made their views on the botched Sudanization abundantly clear. It was Bullen Alier, one of the leaders of the anti-imperialist SOWC and a cabinet minister in the 1954 self-rule government that carried out Sudanization, who complained “publicly that each boat and aircraft […] brought northerners for appointment to the administration, police or the army, and the flow at times looked like an invasion” (Daly 1991: 383). This critical position led to a fall-out with his party. An editor of al-Sudan al-Jadid demanded the removal of Alier from the cabinet on the grounds that he hated northerners and had made it public that he would “southernize” his ministry, the Ministry of Animal Resources, rather than Sudanize it. Worse, the editor wrote, Alier would southernize by casting qualifications to the four winds. The editor took this lack of respect for qualifications as a sign that Alier, who had been a “lowly” sub-Mamur type administrator before becoming a minister, was wearing a shoe larger than his usual size. Alier was eventually forced to issue a statement reiterating his loyalty to the ruling National Unionist Party and the government. The source for this story about Alier was of the opinion that there was an additional context to it pertaining to a conflict in the ruling party.3 That is another story, however.

40Sudanization has been an unfolding grievance that has fueled civil wars in Sudan led by ethnic and regional petites bourgeoisies. The damage it has caused to the fabric of the country belies the opinions of bureaucrats such as P.G.D. Richard, the trade commissioner in Sudan during the self-rule period, who said, “Sudanization has been carried out with dangerous haste but without disastrous results” (Daly 1991: 380). The southerners were the first to strongly protest against the northernization of the Sudanization process. Two revisions of the process were carried out in 1972 (after the Addis Ababa agreement) and from 2005 on (after the Nivasha Agreement in 2005) to redress the injustices befalling the southern elites. In the unrelenting center-margin conflicts in present-day Sudan, Sudanization currently goes by the name of “sharing wealth and authority,” as emphasized by the petite bourgeoisie of Darfur and other marginalized regions in Sudan.

41Many scholars and politicians view Sudanization as a sign of northern greed and/or bigotry whose roots go back to the nineteenth-century enslavement of southerners. This racial view of the process needs to be taken with a pinch of class analysis. Northerners were in two minds on fairness to southerners and other marginal communities when it came to sharing authority and wealth, as is clearly shown by the fifty-second session of the first Sudanese parliament I mentioned earlier. Unlike the Graduates’ Congress nationalists, who indulged in the spoils of colonial power, working-class nationalism, which was inspired by the communist-led SWTUF, was relinquishing its “wages of northernness.” In calling for equal pay, the federation engaged in an act of unique political generosity that was dubbed by Gayatri Spivak (1990: 42) as the “unlearning privilege.” The communist touch in this class behavior is usefully captured by Muhammad E. Mustafa, an expert on labor relations, who praised the Sudanese union tradition for being driven by a perceptive political education that addressed labor issues from a political economy standpoint (Mustafa 1993: 2).

42Martin Daly attributes the failure of the northern nationalists in government to meet the standard of fairness in Sudanization, among other transition tasks, to the pressures exerted on their government “of skilled politicians but inexperienced statesmen” (Daly 1991: 362). There are indications, however, that the problem went further than mere incompetence: it was occupational and educational rather than racial. The Graduates’ Congress developed no political awareness of the southern question beyond that of annexing it to the North. The South was the colonial “forbidden fruit,” as summed up in the title of a famous book denouncing the Southern Policy that denied northerners’ access to the South, written by Muhammad Yusuf of Kosti municipality in the late 1940s (Yusuf 1946).

43Thus, the southern question became all about northern nationalists rather than southerners: although the Graduates’ Congress, which had been formed in 1938 by graduates of colonial schools of northern origin and had pioneered the nationalist movement in the country, had chapters in the major southern towns, it did not involve itself in the southern fight for equal pay. Rather, its concern for the southern question was tilted towards the intention of the colonial Southern Policy to separate the South from the North. The Congress demanded the “removal of restrictions on northern traders, the expansion of educational facilities, the unification of the educational system and the cancellation of financial aid to missionary schools” (Beshir 1975: 45–46). These demands were nationally sound, of course, and southerners at the time might have had nothing to quarrel with—in fact, we have seen southern officials making almost the same demands in the course of their union action to raise their salaries—but it was simply amazing how the Congress managed to miss the wage disparity issue, which alone made sense of the other demands it was pushing.

44This political immaturity on the part of the Congress could be accounted for by the subterranean religious nationalism that underlay its southern policies. The kind of activities performed by its chapters in the South, whose members were exclusively northerners, is indicative of this cultural bias. These chapters were building mosques in the South or subsidizing Koranic schools, and the case that galvanized them the most was the removal of a southern chief from office because he had opposed missionary education among his Muslim people (Beshir 1975: 46).

45In some rare cases, northern nationalists referenced wage disparity and the attendant injustices, but it was all rhetoric and no light. Ma’asi al-Injliz fi al-Sudan (The British Tragedies in Sudan), which was a kind of black book, was written to support the case for self-determination presented in 1946 by the Sudanese delegation to Egypt, which was both a co-domino and a sponsor of nationalists. This book uncovered the economic exploitation of the South under the British, but not before devoting its initial paragraphs to the nakedness of southerners, which irked northerners a great deal, and how the British reinforced this indigenous attitude toward nudity by causing cloth to be in short supply. At an economic level, the book complained that the government was controlling the prices of southerners’ cattle and honey and paying them peanuts. Merchants (mostly northern Sudanese) could not make any profit from these products because of excessively high taxes and other fees. On the specific question of the disparity of wages, the black book protested that workers were being paid 15 milliems for a day’s work, which was not enough to support a family. Southerners returning from Uganda, according to the book, had been paid 120 piasters monthly. When they protested against this meagre pay, the British fired them. These southerners even came to the Graduates’ Congress in Khartoum to explain their problem. Importantly, the book criticized the wage disparity between southerners and northerners. A southerner’s salary would be less than what a northern official’s sayais (stable boy) received. The government had also decided beforehand that a southerner’s salary would never exceed four pounds after twenty years’ service. In addition, Arabic was not taught in the South, and teachers from the North were not transferred to the South unless they were Copts or Christians (Wafd al-Sudan 1946: 145–146).

46This anger over wage disparities in the country was all smoke and no fire, however. In real terms, the nationalists from the congress neither asked the colonial government to remove this injustice in a resolute manner nor addressed it when they held the reins of power after the country became independent. As we have noted, the communist MP who raised the issue of disparity of wages in the course of a debate on the rights of citizens in a draft constitution in 1955 was ruled out of order for being off the point.

47The graduate nationalists could have been excused for a lack of statesmanship had it not been for the fact that they had received the best advice on how to engage the South. The counsel provided to them by SWTUF on was invaluable. In its overall strategy to strengthen the anti-imperialist alliance that brought colonialism to its knees (of which the newly installed self-rule government was a member), the federation kept the government abreast of its vision for an independent Sudan. No sooner had the self-rule government taken office in February 1954 than the federation sent a letter to the government on issues of concern to workers. The government ignored the federation and embarked on an aggressive policy against its various affiliates. On 20 May, the federation wrote to the government again to remind it of its earlier letter. One of the four urgent issues it raised in this letter was the implementation of equal pay for equal work in the South. The letter described this as being vital for the working class and for Sudanese people at large. It stated that the working class had always protested against this disparity, which had been strongly recommended by colonial experts such as R.C. Wakefield in his famous Wakefield Report (1951). The federation was astounded to find that nationalist ministers continued to suffer from these colonial hangovers. The letter specifically protested against a statement by the minister of finance on 20 April 1954 in which he refused to make salaries equal in the two regions of the country on the grounds that the procedure would interfere with the operation of supply and demand. In the view of the federation, this statement showed that the government had abandoned its commitment to bring the South out of its long period of colonial neglect: how could one develop such a place without raising its standards of living by increasing the purchasing power of its people (Silayman 1971: 19–23)?

  • 4 Al-Midan, 25 October 2010.

48In order to put its money where its mouth was, the federation decided to send a full-time organizer to build up its chapter in the South. The choice fell on Taj al-Sir Hasan Adam (1925–2010), who was a tested union leader of the remarkably radical Railway Workers Trade Union. He was a skilled laborer who had received his training at the Railways Industrial School. His political instincts were first revealed when he joined the youth league of the Graduates’ Congress. His activism attracted the attention of the communists. After a three-month term of imprisonment for leading a demonstration in 1948, he was approached by Gasim Amin, the charismatic leader of the railway workers and the SCP, who talked him into joining the party. He was dismissed from the Railways Department in 1954 after serving a six-month term for leading a demonstration in 1953. He was sent by the federation to Hungary for formal studies in trade unionism. On his return, he was dispatched to the South to help build trade unions there. He succeeded in organizing the southern forest-sowing workers and accompanied their delegates to the federation’s annual conference. His plan was to go to Anzara in Equatoria Province, the site of the various industries associated with the Zande cotton scheme, where lively mobilization for equal pay had been under way, but he was frustrated by the 1955 mutiny of the Southern Corps I referred to above.4

  • 5 Al-Saraha, 3 November 1954.

49The federation did not let it go, however. On 2 November 1954, the president of the organization, Muhammad al-Sayyid Salaam, a mechanic in the Mechanical Transport Department, wrote a front- page piece on equal pay in the leftist al-Saraha entitled “Hair Cream and Cologne.” In it he told the story of the prime minister’s visit to the South in October 1954, which had been preceded by the news that the salaries of soldiers, policemen, and prison wardens would be raised. According the prime minister’s plan, a policeman would be paid seven Sudanese pounds, whereas a worker’s pay remained stagnant, at a salary of one and a half pounds. Having been ignored in this way, the workers, who had gone on strike before to obtain equal pay, encircled the prime minister, protesting against this partial modification of salaries. They did not appreciate being discriminated against yet again, this time in favor of military and semi-military personnel. The minister of social affairs, Yahia al-Fadli, who had been antagonizing the federation around this time, addressed the crowd. He asked them to remove the Khartoum softies, who used hair cream and cologne after a bath, from their leadership. Salam was surprised to hear this from this particular politician, who, together with others in his party, had been branded “the Continental Hotel anti-colonialists.” The hotel in question was a lavish Cairo lodging for Sudanese Congress nationalists. He reminded the minister that his federation’s comrades had never stayed at the Continental, and so could not have picked up these lavish habits.5

What happens in Anzara remains in Anzara

50The wage disparity between northerners and southerners was placed in sharp relief by the labor unrest in Anzara, the headquarters of the Zande Scheme, in July 1955. This unrest was a warning, in that it happened a month before the mutiny of the Southern Corps in Equatoria Province in August 1955 in which northern government officials and members of their families were killed. This mutiny was the first bloody encounter between southern nationalists and the northern-dominated government, and marred relations between the two parties until the independence of the South in 2011.

51The Report into the Disturbances in the Southern Sudan, August 1955, states plainly that communists were behind the labor unrest in Anzara. Communism, the report states, had found its way to the South thanks to the northern officials and other foreign elements who had transferred to the region. Communist activity increased from December 1954, including a visit from a delegation of the Anti-Colonialism Front (an alliance of communists and other leftist nationalists) to Equatoria Province in January and February 1955. Workers in the Zande Scheme fell under the influence of this communist activity, especially those in Anzara, who had already formed a union to defend their rights. Amazingly, the communists, who used Arabic in all their literature, translated their leaflets into the Zande language in a rare act of communication in which injustices speak in an indigenous, oral tongue. These leaflets recommended that the workers go on strike, this being the most well-tried and effective weapon of the weak. The leaflets sought to explain the roots of poverty in the South, and suggested ways to overcome it. They also asked that the three provinces in the South be given local autonomy within the framework of a united Sudan. Importantly, the leaflets strongly argued for fairness in salaries as a basis for the equalization of wages in the whole of Sudan (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 97–99).

52It did not take long for matters between the Zande Scheme management and the Zande workers of Anzara and cotton farmers to take a confrontational turn. The farmers refused to hand their cotton over to the scheme as a protest against the low price being offered, and the workers began a general strike on 4 February 1954. Relations between the scheme and its employees continued to deteriorate until the eruption of the violent demonstrations of 26 July 1955. In that same month, the scheme laid off 300 workers. The report believed that this measure was unwise and attributed it to an influx of northerners into positions of responsibility and privilege in the project. The southerners, the community concerned most by the procedure, viewed it as a northern invasion.

53What added to the tensions was a trial that was taking place at the same time of a southern MP based on a false and deliberate accusation by the self-rule government. An unauthorized court sentenced Ellia Kuze, the MP for the Zande district, and others to two years’ imprisonment for criminal intimidation for holding meetings protesting against the local (northern) authorities’ mobilization of southern chiefs to sign political declarations in support of the national government in Khartoum. The trial was a farce, and the Chief Justice did not approve it. A crowd of 700 demonstrated in sympathy with the accused (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 91–97).

54One day the after the trial, on 26 July, the workers petitioned the manager of the scheme to demand raises, threatening to begin a general strike on 1 August 1955, if management did not comply with their demands. No sooner had the petition signed by ninety workers been submitted to the managers than squabbles began between northern and southern officials. The manager, a northerner, summoned a southerner who had identified by a northerner as the provocateur par excellence. In protest, 250 workers armed with sticks and work tools left their workshop to demonstrate in front of the manager’s office to demand the release of their colleague. They broke windows, and a few officials suffered slight injuries. After the release of their colleague, the demonstrators walked to the marketplace, where they were joined by more southerners. There were estimated to be a thousand demonstrators. Threateningly, some of the new “native” recruits carried spears. The crowd outnumbered and overwhelmed the Anzara police force, which consisted of three officers.

55On being told of these difficult developments, the district commissioner of Yambio, the administrative headquarters of the Zande, dispatched his deputy and a police officer at the head of a force of sixteen soldiers and policemen to contain the situation. When they arrived in Anzara, they found that the demonstrators had wrought havoc in the market, looting shops owned by northerners and killing a northern trader. The deputy district commissioner lined his force up 150 yards from the demonstrators and asked them three times in Arabic to disperse. They did not. Untrained as he was, he tried to throw a tear gas shell at them, which nearly blew up in his face. In a situation reminiscent of George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant, in keeping with the image of the “natives,” he continued firing tear gas. He successfully fired two other shells, but they did not go off. The demonstrators did not budge. Instead, they moved on toward the police line. The deputy district commissioner ordered the police officer to shoot to kill. The officer asked the demonstrators three times in Arabic to disengage, but to no avail. He ordered one of his men to shoot a demonstrator who had led the advance of the “mob.” The bullet shot the man dead. The force was then ordered to shoot to kill, and the demonstrators turned back and disappeared into the woods. The deputy district commissioner tried his hand at throwing tear gas again even after the place had been evacuated. He fired one last tear gas shell at the demonstrators on the run. Luckily for him, it worked this time. He also ordered his force to shoot live bullets and the two soldiers armed with Berene and Austin were ordered to shoot straight, evidently in a show of force to intimidate anyone who might be tempted to reignite the confrontation. The police officer shot one last bullet to put a “full stop” to the tragic episode. The force left the place, and the collection of the dead bodies (six as a result of bullets, two trampled on by panicking demonstrators, and two drowned while fleeing the scene) was left to a police officer who had arrived from Yambio late in the fight. Worse, the report found that two northern merchants had been firing at the demonstrators with the Yambio force (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 99–102).

56The report goes into some detail on how the authorities mishandled the chain of events in Anzara, which resulted in southerners becoming embittered and mobilizing against the newly installed nationalist government. The mutiny of the Southern Military Corps of August 1955, which was a watershed in southern politics as the switch from peaceful to violent means took place, was in part fueled by the Anzara tragedy:

Despite this communist activity, the evidence does not bear out that the southerners understood Marx’s and Lenin’s theories or cared for them. The native chiefs were in fact perplexed by the communist leaflets and turned them into the authorities to look into them. Evidently not even the southern elite cared for communist theories, and yet the slogans calling for “equal pay for equal work” and “three mini-parliaments in Juba, Malkal and Wau”—the capitals of the three southern provinces—caught their attention. Anti-northern slogans also appealed to them. Blame for the events of 26 July cannot be placed on the shoulders of the communists, however; rather, it can be attributed to the tense labour relations in Anzara coupled with the general anxiety prevalent in the political atmosphere at the time. (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 99)

57Al-Badawi, the northern Sudanese, who was unusually involved in the Southern Officials Welfare Committee, as we have seen, also showed up in troubled Anzara. He joined the Zande Scheme in 1954 and immediately began working to form a union for the employees of the project in the town. His friends in the Khartoum leadership of the SWTUF coached him on the process. The first meeting of the union was a success, attended by 300 mostly southern employees. The disparity in wages hit home for al-Badawi when he realized that Joseph Tumbura, a Zande engineer and a graduate of the prestigious Khartoum Technical Institute (KTI), had been paid less than what a servant of a northern Sudanese official earned, or one-quarter of the wage paid to a semi-skilled laborer from the North. Negotiations to redress this injustice, which were followed closely by other southern staff, came to nothing. As a result, the union went on a one-day strike, and few northerners crossed the picket line.

58A month later, the workers struck again in pursuit of their demand for equal pay. In order to break up the unity shown by the northerners and southerners in the union, management sought to drive a wedge between them. It accepted the demands advanced by the former, and in response to their request that their company homes be properly maintained, it provocatively sent southern workers to do the job. This double-dealing led to all hell breaking loose, and hatred of northerners reached a new high. A meeting called to rein in this racial tension failed to bear fruit. The southern staff—in reality, and not merely figuratively—“drummed up” their demands by beating on drums. They also came with their local weapons. They attacked the northerners who shouted down al-Badawi, who was one of their own and a union leader. A group of five northerners who sympathized with the position of the southern staff, led by al-Badawi, succeeded in protecting the other northerners and accompanied each of them home safely. The southerners remained in the meeting all night, determined to prevent northerners from crossing the picket line in the morning. Luckily, a Zande manager, Barnaba Kisanza, was around, and he met with the southern workers and talked them into a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Consequently, the union split into two factions on racial lines, except for a few northerners who remained with the southerners (al-Badawi 2007: 227–231).

59A documentary deceit occurred like an optical illusion when the labor unrest in Anzara was recorded in 1955 and was only cleared up in 2007. The report identified the most active communists in the Zande lands as Benjamin Bisara, a Zande health inspector, and an Egyptian doctor (Commission of Inquiry 1956: 98). The identity of the Egyptian doctor remained a mystery until the publication in 2007 of Mashawir fi Droub al-Haya (Walks of Life), the posthumously published memoir of Mustafa al-Sayyid (d. 2003). It was al-Sayyid, who was a Sudanese eye doctor, who had been wrongly identified as a foreign physician, although the authors of the report had at least some grounds for misidentifying him, as he was unusually light-skinned even for the largely swarthy Egyptians, and was a graduate of an Egyptian medical school and married to an Egyptian woman.

60Al-Sayyid was an extremely active communist. He singlehandedly built the first communist cell within the Sudan Railways Department in Atbara in 1946 when he was still a student at Kitchener Medical College, and he was a union leader at Khartoum University College and a newly recruited member of Sudan National Liberation Movement (HASITO, in Arabic initials) (1946), the precursor of the Sudan Communist Party (SCP). He literally flung himself at these young workers during one of his college vacations in Atbara, the headquarters of the Railway Department; he just walked into the Industrial Schools Graduates’ Club in the town and talked those who welcomed him into becoming communists. It worked. His recruits became some of the national founders of the SCP and the labor movement. They led the railway trade union, whose astute unionism and politics are admirably discussed in Fawzi (1957), Taha (1978), Cross (1997), and Sikainga (2002). Mustafa’s original cell included Gasim Amin, the charismatic labor and communist leader, and al-Sahfi’ Ahmad al-Sheikh, a member of the Politburo of the SCP and secretary-general of the SWTUF, who was tragically executed by President Nimeiry in 1971. It also included Ibrahim Zakria, the first organizational secretary of the SCP and the secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague.

61Al-Sayyid’s passion and capacity for radical politics showed up again when he was transferred to Meridi, a town in the Zande lands, in 1954 to be its medical officer. He worked conscientiously to represent the “other northern Sudanese” in order to give southerners a hope of racial harmony. He knew he was fighting an uphill battle to bolster the lowly image southerners had formed about the exploitative northern merchants amongst them. The “colonial” air of the northern officials who had “invaded” the South through the Sudanization process during the self-rule era (1954–1956) did not help either.

62His tactic to be the “other” northern Sudanese took various forms. He drew a line between him and the northern merchant class. His first medical reform was to prevent these merchants from trading in drugs, and he took what they had had off their shelves and gave it back to the hospital pharmacy (al-Sayyid 2007: 152). He also became involved in his nurses’ standard of living and talked them into forming a union, coached by his friends and disciples in the Khartoum SWTUF (al-Sayyid 2007: 148–149). Importantly, he developed a close relationship with Bisara, the Zande health inspector, whom he came to know after a heated discussion about race relations in the country during a campaign to fight sleeping sickness. They struck up a close relationship that led to the formation of a branch of the SCP and a chapter of the Anti-Democratic Front. This appealed to Zande sultans and ordinary people alike. Al-Sayyid was asked to address Zande meetings a couple of times (2007: 165-180). Regrettably, however, the local authorities in the South frowned upon this experiment in Sudanese goodwill, and the governor of Equatoria Province ordered his transfer back to the North (al-Sayyid 2007: 192).


63Because of the dominance of Islamic semantics in the current racial and social conflict in Sudan, one might be tempted to ask if the workers’ position in the 1950s was not simply a racial fantasy that had no chance of success. Whatever role Islam played in inspiring these workers to call for racial harmony (or might have played in disrupting it) is a moot point. I myself believe, as a good Muslim should, that Islam did indeed play a major role in reinforcing the sense of union justice shown by these workers. This, however, is an issue that needs to be discussed on a separate occasion. What needs to be emphasized here is that this call for racial equality did not arise in order to resolve an Islam-made racial conflict in the country; instead, it emerged in the course of an honest attempt at proper decolonization aimed at bringing the fragments of the newly independent nation together. Put another way, the intention of this call was to remove a Western-made injustice suffused with colonial and missionary knowledge—a knowledge that disadvantaged the South when it came to wage determination—from government records.

  • 6 Taqrir Tanzim al-Khidma al-Madniyyaa 1968.

64Was Mahjub over-confident when he argued that the “sons of Zebir” cannot be frozen into history, condemned to a fixed racial construction of southerners? Not really. Even as he spoke, he might have been privy to a decision taken by the government of the October Revolution of 1964, in which his party and associates were part of the majority, to form a commission to revise wages in the country (Ahamd 2005: 69). One of the decisions it took three years later was to equalize the pay of southern day workers with their compatriots in the North.6 Nine months after Mahjub’s confident words on the potential for racial harmony in the country, his party would be banned by an Islamic political alliance that felt gravely threatened by the various social and racial fantasies, such as Mahjub’s enlivening of the image of Sudan. This alliance was closely watched, if not actually egged on and supported, by conservative Islamic regional powers, in tandem with neo-colonialism. Islam, the virulent political metaphor we see in contemporary Sudan politics, originated in these circumstances (Ibrahim 2008: 165–219). The narrative of the northern Sudanese as bigoted racists, à la “sons of Zebir,” has never allowed Mahjub’s radical racial fantasies to filter into its construction.


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1 Proceedings of the Round-Table Conference on the Southern Sudan, 16–25 March 1965: 173.

2 SAD [Sudan Archive Durham] 521/11/24-25, 20 March 1948.

3 Article in al-Saraha, 2 November 1954.

4 Al-Midan, 25 October 2010.

5 Al-Saraha, 3 November 1954.

6 Taqrir Tanzim al-Khidma al-Madniyyaa 1968.

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