Sudan’s secret “Blue House”, where Africa’s Savage Way slowly kills 30 political prisoners who don’t officially exist
Retired SANDF colonel jailed for four months in Sudan without charges
A retired South African army colonel who served as an advisor to South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar has been jailed in a secretive prison in Juba since August. He is now near death from starvation, and his family back home accuse South African government of not doing enough to secure his release.
His case has come to light through the testimony of Henrik Tobiesen, a Danish businessman imprisoned for 67 days in Blue House on the same floor as Endley. Tobiesen said at times Endley was so weak from malnutrition in the prison he could not even sit up for extended periods of time.
“He’s skin and bloody bones.” Tobiesen told Daily Maverick of Endley’s condition when he last saw him. “I’ve not seen people alive that could be so skinny,”
The rights group says conditions in Blue House amount to torture as inmates are held in small, hot cells, with little access to water, food, or medical care.
“Detainees that have spoken to us about the facility have spoken about being held in appalling conditions,” said Amnesty International’s Nyagoah Tut.
South Sudanese government officials have repeatedly denied holding political prisoners or torturing detainees.
Tobiesen, who was arrested for missing a passport and spent 67 days in the facility, said prisoners were allowed out of their cells for just one hour a week. Some prisoners being whipped for small infractions such as talking to one another, though he said Endley was never beaten.
Tobiesen said many prisoners suffer from apparent kidney disease due to lack of access to clean water. Some prisoners would vomit and urinate blood in their cells with little or no medical attention from the guards. One prisoner died as his illness was left untreated, he claims.
Tobiesen said Endley struggles to eat the prison food which consisted of one meal of beans and maize meal per day and sometimes contained insects. The Danish citizen said he was going to go on hunger strike when he arrived in jail, until he saw Endley’s condition and realized it wasn’t worth it because the prison officials would not help.
“I was like, ‘this is madness, man, this man is about to die, he’s about to freaking die,’ ” Tobiesen said. “He couldn’t eat the food. He took a cup, filled with only the sauce of the beans, up to a quarter cup, and he drink it, and that’s all.”
Tobiesen received food from his church on the outside which he shared with Endley, giving the South African enough strength to sit up and limp around, but he says that it wasn’t been enough to bring Endley back to full health, or to gain weight.
“Just because he get some food doesn’t mean he start adding kilos. This is not a place you add kilos. It is a place you stay alive,” he said. “That man needs medical attention and he needs a lot of food.”
Tobiesen said some money was brought to Endley by the guards, sent from his family in South African and some friends in Juba to purchase bread, but without Tobiesen’s food supplementing his diet, Endley may not have enough to eat.
Endley’s sister, Charmaine Quinn of Cape Town, who has managed to get information about his conditions through nongovernmental contacts in Juba, told Daily Maverick her brother suffers from recurring malaria and has a wound on his leg which has at times been infected.
Quinn said she last received proof of life about three weeks ago, and has not been able to get any more information since.
“There were calls. That has stopped now. I can’t get any contact,” she said.
Endley has not been charged with any crime, according to Monyluak Alor Kuol, a Juba-based lawyer hired by the family and messages sent from the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“I met the number two in the National Security, and he confirmed that he is with them, and they are doing their investigation, but then they couldn’t allow us to access him,” Kuol told Daily Maverick.
National Security Service (NSS) has prevented the International Committee of the Red Cross from visiting Endley too, according to Quinn.
“We know they go out of the way and detain people quite unnecessarily, much more than what is allowed in the law,” Monyluak said of NSS. “The detention is illegal, we know it is an illegal detention, but there’s nothing you can do about it now … It’s frustrating.”
Veteran turned ‘Security Adviser’
Endley’s saga in South Sudan began before the current war broke out.
He spent twenty five years in the South African army before retiring and joining the private sector, according to his wife and his LinkedIn profile. He was an avid collector of military memorabilia, and was writing a book on the topic, according to his wife.
He made briefly made the news in 2007 when he gained possession of Saddam Hussein’s war medals, which he loaned to the South African National Military Museum in Johannesburg.
In 2012, Endley took a job in South Sudan as a manager with RMA Group, a logistics firm. In Juba, he became friends with Machar, who was vice president at the time, according to Machar who spoke to Daily Maverick.
In July 2013, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir fired Machar, and in December fighting broke out between their followers. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the ensuing war which has riven the country along ethnic lines and produced a million refugees. The U.N. recently warned of impending genocide as fighting escalates in the oncoming dry season.
A year into the conflict, Endley left RMA and moved to Ethiopia and became an advisor of now South Sudan rebel leader Machar, according to Machar and Endley’s LinkedIn profile, which shows a grinning Endley shaking hands with the rebel leader.
“I asked him to be my security adviser,” Machar told Daily Maverick by phone. “At times he would visit me in Addis when I was living in Addis or in [rebel headquarters] Pagak [in South Sudan], and every time I came to South Africa we would connect.”
Endley received the rank of Major General in the SPLA-IO, but Machar flatly denied that Endley had commanded any troops or conducted any trainings, saying it was more of an honorific title.
“He was not engaged in training anybody,” Machar said. “Only consulted with him from time to time, particularly during when the [peace] talks were on.”
Machar said Endley’s have entirely pro-bono assistance. Endley’s wife Sana and sister confirmed that Endley was not paid and never sent any money home.
In April this year, Machar returned to Juba per terms of a peace deal signed the year earlier, and formed a coalition government with Kiir. Endley accompanied him on the flight to Juba. In the days following, he would sit for hours in popular expat haunts, talking and drinking with fellow patrons while a Nuer bodyguard kept watch a few steps away.
Endley and Machar stayed in contact in Juba, where Machar’s residence “was open to him,” according to Machar. One of Machar’s spokesmen, Nyarji Roman, told Daily Maverick that Endley would have breakfast with Machar a few times a week.
But Endley still made no money, and another problem arose: Endley had no valid visa because Machar’s entourage skipped immigration upon arrival back in April. At one point in June, authorities arrested Endley for a few days for not having a valid visa, according to Sana.
Sana urged him to return home to help raise their young daughter, who she said had a close relationship with her father who would call often and talk with her by phone from Ethiopia. But Endley, who she said would call as many as five times a day to check in with her, brushed off her appeals to come back.
“I said to him, you need to come home. Your daughter’s missing you, come home for a break … and he said no, I can’t, because of my passport,” she said.
Sana said her husband told her he’d got a job once the peace deal was implemented, which Machar confirms.
“We would have used him when we would implement the security arrangements [of the peace deal],” he said, referring to a set of agreements meant to eventually integrate the government and rebel forces. “I was thinking we would use his expert knowledge during the implementation [of the peace agreement] like we did during the negotiations.”
But those security arrangements were never realized. On July 8, a bloody gun battle erupted between Kiir and Machar’s soldiers, leaving hundreds dead. Two days later, Kiir’s forces launched a massive assault on Machar’s positions, bombing the rebel leader’s house and forcing him and his followers from the city. Machar fled South Sudan, first to Congo, then Sudan, and now he stays in South Africa.
Endley, who stayed in a hotel separate from Machar’s residence, was left behind. Why he stayed in Juba remains a mystery.
“He always said to me, don’t ask too many questions,” said his sister Quinn. “All the years he was really secretive and he never spoke and never said much. He would never really talk about what he was doing, even if he was wounded.”
Going on ‘holiday’
On August 18, Endley called Sana to tell her he would be going on “holiday,” a code to let her know that he might not be able to call for at least a few days. She suspected the worst, but hoped he was finally trying to get himself out of the country somehow.
Three days later, she received an email from a friend of Endley saying her husdband had been kidnapped in Juba and might be killed. Sana frantically tried to find out what was going on, including notifying the embassy in South Sudan, who told her she would need to speak with the South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).
From there, it still took days before the Dirco sent a message to the South Sudanese government inquiring about Endley’s case, according to an August 25 email from the Dirco to Sana.
It took another five days for the Embassy in Juba to actually meet with South Sudan’s foreign ministry, but they still couldn’t provide the family with any information about his whereabouts.
By September 6, the Embassy officers still had no information, nor had they visited Endley in jail, according to another message sent to Sana which said the mission had sent two more notes to South Sudan’s Foreign Affairs ministry with no reply.
By September 9, a Friday, the family reached out to Kuol to investigate. By Monday the 12th, Kuol had heard through other channels that Endley was in NSS custody, and met with South Sudan’s Foreign Minister about the case. But the foreign minister said he had no idea about Endley, despite the South African embassy’s claims to the family of reaching out repeatedly over the matter.
“Incidentally, [the South Sudanese Foreign Minister] happened to have met with South African Ambassador to South Sudan in the morning of the same day,” Kuol wrote to the family. “When I raised that a South Africa national by name William Endley was being detained by the national security in Juba he was surprised that he did not hear about that even from the ambassador who did not raise it in their meeting.”
The next day, Kuol visited the director of the South Sudan Foreign Ministry’s consular department, per the minister’s recommendation, but the director was also in the dark about Endley’s case.
On Wednesday, September 14, Kuol went directly to the South African embassy to find out what was going on, and they said they still had not received a reply from South Sudan’s Foreign Ministry, and that their procedure requires them to use written communication. So Kuol went back to the ministry himself, where they told him that NSS confirmed to them in writing that Endley’s is safe and under their detention.
The lawyer Kuol had thus independently confirmed Endley’s was in NSS custody in just three working days, compared to more than three weeks taken by South Africa’s embassy without reply.
Two days after that, Kuol met with the deputy director of the NSS Internal Security Bureau at the Blue House, who confirmed that was where Endley was being detained but would not allow him to visit. The deputy director gave no official charges, but accused Endley of bringing in “bullet proof vehicles” to Juba, and said the South African confessing to be a “mercenary involved in training Machar’s military units,” according to Kuol’s letter to Quinn.
Kuol stressed that Quinn should pressure the South African government to intervene in the case and visit Endley in Juba.
“I suggest that you let your Ministry of Foreign Affairs urge the diplomats in Juba to visit William,” he wrote. “Once they have done that, we shall feel assured and would exert extra efforts to see him if he remains in custody.”
Yet the South African embassy did not deliver. On September 21, Kuol obtained a September 14 letter from the South Sudan Foreign Ministry to the South Africa Embassy granting permission for them to visit Endley in prison. The lawyer forwarded the letter to Sana. It is unclear if the South African Embassy didn’t receive the note, or it did, but failed to act.
By then, Endley’s family was at wit’s end with the South African government’s sluggishness in handling the case.
Sana remembers one phone call with a ministry representative who chuckled when she pleaded to him that she didn’t know whether her husband was alive or dead.
“We felt they weren’t doing their jobs. We weren’t asking for any favor. Just for people to do their damn job,” Sana said. “It actually had been a month by then. I still had no answer from them telling me if the South African embassy in Juba had got some confirmation or had official contact.”
It wouldn’t be until October 20, nearly two months after the South Africa embassy sent its first letter to the South Sudanese government, and more than a month after South Sudan apparently granted permission for a visit, when a South African government representative finally met Endley in prison.
Still, the Dirco didn’t let the family know about the visit for five more days, eventually informing in an October 30 email that there still were no charges against him.
The email said Endley told them while in the presence of guards that he was being “well treated” and had access to medication. “He seemed a little unwell,” the email read. “He was not incarcerated in the general prison but slept on a mattress in a secure office – away from the prison population.”
The October 25 visit remains the only visit the South African embassy made to the prisoner, according to the correspondence between the family and the South African government that was forwarded to Daily Maverick.
Sana says the last she heard from the Dirco was November 14, in which the representative said they were still awaiting feedback from South Africa’s Embassy in Juba.
“It’s completely nothing,” says Quinn. “We’ve been emailing. They just keep saying there’s no update.”
Foreign Affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela referred the Daily Maverick to Nelson Kgwete for information on consular cases. Kgwete has yet to respond to repeated emails and phone messages.
‘This is what I do’
The failure of South Africa’s embassy to regularly visit Endley and secure his release is in sharp contrast to cases involving other foreigners.
Tobiesen said the Danish government’s representative in Juba – Denmark doesn’t have a full embassy or ambassador in South Sudan – visited him at least once a week until he was released, and eventually helped secure his release.
Meanwhile, an American aid worker jailed recently in the same prison went free within days after a swift embassy visits, according to Tobiesen, who shared a cell with the American.
The lack of engagement with Endley’s case by South Africa’s government also comes against the backdrop of South Africa’s political involvement in South Sudan.
The ANC has tried to broker peace deals during the war, including through a controversial “Arusha Process” which is widely seen as having split Machar’s rebellion.
Currently, Machar is in Johannesburg, living under “house arrest,” according to Reuters, which the South African government has denied. Recently, South African President Zuma met with Kiir in Pretoria, but Machar was left out of the meeting.
Whether those politics have influenced the response to Endley’s case is unknown. But for the family, the imprisonment has been interminable.
Sana says she struggles to support herself and their ten-year-old daughter alone. She’s moved her daughter to a cheaper school to save money, and is now selling off assets to get by. But the emotional toll is the most difficult part.
“It’s not easy being a single parent especially when she’s close to her father,” Sana said. “A girl needs her father … there are days where she wouldn’t go to school because we had to take an emotional day off because we spent the night crying or having nightmares.”
Tobiesen said he worries about Endley’s mental health too. In prison, the two kept each other going by sneaking short conversations, cracking jokes about how they’d be out by the next Friday, early enough to order a big beer.
“We could support one another. We were both broken,” he said. “To be honest I’m not so sure [how he is] now, because he built up his spirit through me and I built up my spirit through him.”
As the family waits and wonder when Endley will be released, they also wonder why he stayed in South Sudan, even as the security situation worsened.
“He never really spoke out about what he was doing, just saying things were really bad,” Quinn said. “Just a few weeks before he was detained, he said he’s gonna die in an unmarked grave in [South] Sudan.”
“I said, ‘no, get out,’ ” Quinn continued, “and he said, ‘no, this is what I do.” DM
JASON PATINKIN (DM)