Ker Deng, one of the Dinka people of Southern Sudan, was captured into slavery as a child during Sudan's civil war. His father had died and he was captured alongside his mother, Angel Mangok Diin, and taken to the North by raiders. He was blinded by his slave-holder, Zakaria Salih, as punishment for letting a goat escape. Unfit for work, he lived with a neighbour then in 2010 was handed to slave retrievers who return former slaves to the South. In 2011, a sponsor enabled him to resettle in the United States. His mother remains enslaved.
In 1985 William Akoi Mawwin was captured and forced into slavery at the age of six years. During raids by Muslim militia from Northern Sudan on the villages of the Christian Dinka tribes during the 1980s, tens of thousands of other boys between the ages of four and ten had the same fate. As well, babies and toddlers were killed, and girls were raped, killed, or forced into slavery. Some boys who escaped capture headed to refugee camps in Kenya, but it is estimated that only one in three survived the journey.After seven years in slavery, William escaped and lived on the streets of the capital. He worked to earn money for a passport, and left for Cairo, Egypt, where he found work in a rubber factory before a machinery accident took his hands. In 2001 the US government granted 3600 Sudanese orphans refugee status. Some 500 boys, including 21-year-old William, were placed in Arizona.William fashions his capture as a sudden disappearance: “You’re gone for good.” But his narrative confronts this problem of erasure and offers a solution: “I’m here,” he insists. This assertion of ongoing presence is part of William’s call to action. While his family gave him up as dead after he disappeared—“[n]obody believed,” he observes—William refuses to give up, in turn, on other slave children: “I’m not going to give up. I believe,” he concludes. For while he still doesn’t feel entirely liberated (explaining that his “heart’s not free”), William seeks a final sense of freedom through activism that might lead to a large-scale liberation of Sudan’s slaves. Reminding his reader about “the kids who are slaves today,” he asks: “What are we going to do…?”
In 1994, when Mende Nazer was about 12, Arab militia stormed her village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. They raped and massacred the villagers and sold Mende and other children into slavery, as part of the Muslim-dominated government’s war strategy against rebels in south Sudan. For about six years Mende was beaten, sexually abused, fed food scraps, and kept prisoner as a domestic slave for a family in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. At the age of 19 she was taken to London and passed onto the family of a Sudanese diplomat, becoming one of an estimated 6000 women who have been trafficked into Britain in the past few years (mainly from countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and South Asia). Mende’s achievement of a free life after slavery was a highly publicized process. She escaped after several months, in September 2000, and claimed asylum, then suddenly found herself at the center of an international uproar: she published a controversial full-length autobiography in 2002, and the British government rejected her claim in October of the same year. She faced deportation and feared reprisal from the Sudanese government. Human rights and abolitionist groups appealed on her behalf and the Sudanese embassy in Washington DC denounced her as a fraud. In November 2002 the British government announced that it would reconsider her case, eventually granting her asylum and permanent residency. Mende began to spread awareness about slavery in Sudan. Her narrative explains that “the reason for talking out is to help make another slave free,” and in an interview she observed of her decision to tell her story: “They treated me as less than a human being. I’ll only forgive them if all my friends enslaved in Sudan are freed…I want people to know about my past.”