As the crowds swelled below the podium where AFP had a spot and a very long lens, the scene lay out below me reminded me of the history books. Of the black and white photographs of African independence from the sixties. The Colonialists handing back the countries they had taken, and ravaged. Here in Juba, Omar al-Bashir, the president of the previously unified Sudan, was in attendance, ready to hand over South Sudan to Kiir and his men.
Thousands had come out, and sat through the day under a baking Juba sun. The lines of soldiers, many who had fought through the long, bitter war with the north, occasionally had someone drop amongst their ranks. The sun taking its toll as Red Cross stretchers whipped away the feinted.
The armoured vehicles of South Africa swept in, their gunmen training their huge rifles on the thousands gathered as Jacob Zuma made his way to his seat. Museveni’s entourage seemingly went on for almost as many years as his rule.
I had had two hours sleep since last night’s celebrations, little water and less food. We wrestled with the over protective security, freshly laminated badges hanging around our necks. Elbows were out. Tempers were fraying with some of those around me who were fresh to South Sudan and its protocol.
Everything was inevitably delayed. Speeches went on. And on. There were not enough seats for the dignitaries; but the generals of this army chivalrously gave up theirs for these fresh-faced “guests of honour”, amongst them, Britain’s own foreign secretary. (We heard rumours that someone had the unenviable job of advising him to wear a cap to cover his balding head from the Sudanese sun.)
But I felt immensely fortunate to be here, six months after covering the referendum and its subsequent results announced preliminarily in Juba and then formally in Khartoum. Honoured to be here at this moment in history, to be one of the (many) photographers to capture this moment and leave a record on the history books.
As the sun dropped, I jumped on the back of a motorcycle and sped across the eerily empty streets of this new capital, a dash to file my images.
Tables of exhausted journalists sat around our usual haunt, and despite resolves for an early night, a few of us stayed up until the following sunrise, high on the adrenaline of the day.