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‘We are shocked, we are broken’: South Sudanese community leader killed in alleged hit-run

Ms Manyang, left, was heavily involved in community work, particularly with young people.

Ms Manyang, left, was heavily involved in community work, particularly with young people.

She was found about 50 minutes later by two witnesses, but had died at the scene.

Those who knew her have since described Ms Manyang as a strong, kind-hearted woman who played a huge role in mentoring youth from across the city, passing on traditional song and dance to younger generations.

Her brother Majok Atem Manyang told The Age the family were shattered by her sudden death, in particular her five children who had now been suddenly left without a mother.

“She was a very unique person, she was friendly to everyone. It didn’t matter who you were, she took everyone as a friend,” he said.

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“She loved traditional stuff, she liked to sing and dance.”

Her nephew Jacques Dhieu said her death had left the entire community heartbroken.

“As a role model – as a mother, as a woman, as an important figure in the South Sudanese community, Mama Abiol Atem acted with compassion, honesty, intelligence and love. Her legacy will live on through me, through her family and through the entire South Sudanese community,” he said.

“The innovation and cultural experience she created for the community was nothing short of remarkable. She celebrated the diverse uniqueness of people in a manner and style that no one could replicate.

“She reminded us of the importance of preserving our identity in a constantly changing and challenging world … her legacy will inspire the next generation of young south Sudanese to continue to carry the torch for the culture no matter what.”

'Mama' Abiol, left, pictured with Tina Mayom.

‘Mama’ Abiol, left, pictured with Tina Mayom.

Peter Anyang Thiak, who knew Ms Manyang for over a decade and worked with her at the South Sudanese Australian Traditional Wrestling Association, said she was hard-working and lovely to everyone.

“We have one thing in common – she likes culture and I like culture,” he said.

“We do cultural activities to help our young kids learn… We try and help them because kids grow up in different countries and they don’t know our culture. She was an icon in trying to help us, with her style of dancing. We learnt from her.”

He said she had been volunteering for more than a decade in community groups without being paid because she was so passionate about passing on her knowledge.

He had given her the name “Mama” because she was a “mother to everyone”.

“She was an example, a legend to young kids … she won’t be replaced.”

The 50-year-old came to Australia in 2003 from South Sudan.

Tina Mayom, 23, said she had known Ms Manyang since she was five and had grown up under her positive influence.

She was one of the last people to speak to her before she died. The pair had organised to shop for costumes for one of the cultural community groups on Tuesday, however, Ms Manyang was found dead early that morning.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Ms Mayom said.

“Growing up she’s been a mentor and a mother and mainly a best friend… she’s done so much for the youth, the church and the community and particularly young women.

“She worked with different youths, different tribes and backgrounds and honestly, she had inspired a lot of us. I would not have grown to the woman I am right now if not for her. She believed I was capable and was pushing me and supporting me in so many ways…. she saw so much in us. We listened to her.

“She knew it was her duty to bring them up to see a future of their own. We are shocked, we are broken.”

She has been remembered as a loving mother and strong community advocate.

She has been remembered as a loving mother and strong community advocate.

Community leader Richard Deng said she had “given her life to the community for the last few years”.

“She will be missed. She was a person that was loved by everyone in the community and gave her time to help young women and young people in particular so she is going to be a great loss to our community.

“These are the people we need in our current situation. I hope that she will be remembered as someone that has contributed so much.”

Simone is a breaking news reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Australian in Melbourne.

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