Book Review Indefinite Cruelty: Caged Animals – A Cry for Justice By Mamer Dau Thuch

In the Indefinite Cruelty: Caged Animals – A Cry for Justice, Mamer Dau Thuch tells the story of his life. Thuch’s story is one of struggle to make the most of life. Thuch’s courage, bravery and sometimes his propensity to violence is demonstrated throughout the book. Thuch gives us an insight into how displaced persons in South Sudanese in the 1990s evaded and survived the civil war. Life in Kakuma Refugee Camp in the 1990s/2000s, for Thuch, was dominated by violence and near-death experiences. His movement back and forth between Kenya and South Sudan in search for a fulfilling life tested his courage, bravery and patience. Violence and death were always lurking around the corner. Thuch hoped that his emigration to Australia was going to bring him a deserved relief from the crazy refugee camp life and the insecurity and instability in South Sudan. Although Thuch began his life well in Australia, trouble eventually found him. Thuch found himself in the justice system. Once again Thuch had to be violent to survive the Western Australian justice system. After many years of incarceration in the Western Australian justice system, Thuch finds himself in the immigration detention system. This time round he witnesses the brutality of the Australian immigration system where people’s rights are taken away from them and locked up indefinitely. In the end, Thuch continues to live with uncertainty and violence as he awaits his deportation to South Sudan.

The book was written mainly for the South Sudanese audience. The style of writing is raw and honest. There is very little self-censorship. The incidences and the events described in the book were in graphic shocking details. What is even more shocking is that the people who participated in violent incidences that resulted in the death of others were named. Thuch himself participated actively in some of those acts of violence but had never described an incident where he was the one committing the killing. In the many incidences in the book where Thuch witnessed the killing of other people, he urged the persons committing the killing to stop.

The strength of the book is in its rawness and the lack of self-censorship. The book transports the reader to those places where Thuch had been. As the reader embarks on that journey, they are forced to live those stories and become an accomplice in the many incidences described in the book. The reader feels the sense of desperation, fear, uncertainty, courage and the sense that something better is out there that could be grasped. The reader experiences the sense of disappointment and the bewilderment Thuch experiences especially in the last part of the book where he describes his experience with the justice system and the immigration system in Australia. Thuch leaves the reader wondering how a wealthy, democratic country like Australia that pride itself on upholding human rights could institute justice and immigration detention systems that purposefully inflict injustice on humanity in such a way that breaches their human rights.

Although the audience of the book is the South Sudanese reader, the themes of the book would appeal to a wider audience in Australia and globally. The book is about what happens when the world looks away when injustice happens. The Sudanese civil war in the 1980s and 1990s was ignored by the rest of the world. Displaced persons had to fend for themselves and find a way to survive. The book shows what happens when the world looks away from displaced persons. Even when the world pays attention for a moment, no permanent solutions are found. Displaced persons who cross borders are housed in refugee camps and forgotten. Peace agreements are brokered without addressing the challenges people are living with on the ground. The world congratulates itself for getting warlords to sign peace agreements that have no meaning to the people who have been impacted. The world moves on leaving behind millions of people affected by war to deal with it. Thuch shows us in his book what happens when the world moves on.

The book is also very much about how minority groups in Australia experience the justice system. Thuch shows us how brutal the justice system is in Australia. He shows us how racism and bureaucratic indifference mean that minority groups in prison are left vulnerable and often become victims of the system. Thuch also suggests that the prison system has become a money-making venture where those working in that system have no interest in the welfare of the prison population apart from keeping them there. Thuch has raised questions about the immigration detention system in Australia, a system that is built on a lay. The immigration detention system takes away people’s rights and leaves them with no recourse. People in that system are stuck. They cannot be allowed to live in Australia, but they are not deported. Thuch courageously ask: Is this the Australia we want?

Thuch has brought to the fore the story of many Australians who migrated to Australia due to the upheaval of war in their home countries. These stories have now become part of the Australian story and most be told. Thuch has made some of these stories available to all Australians. Thuch’s story sits alongside other stories that are often not told or denied because they chip away at the story we tell ourselves – Australia is a democratic, egalitarian society built on the values of justice, fairness, equality and human rights.

Atem Dau Atem

13 February 2022

Sydney, Australia.

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