The five top meeting places of South Sudanese in Khartoum highlight a long history of north-south ties. Except for the period between the 1970s and 1990s, these locations, including the bustling Naivasha Market, have attracted large numbers of South Sudanese, especially following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Even after the Sudans’ division, they remain important gathering points for southerners and a focal point for the community.
1. Comboni College (CCK)
The CCK is located on the western side of al-Qasr Street, about 200 metres north of the Khartoum University medical centre and Khartoum railway station, between 21 October Street to the south and Sheikh Mustafa Al-Amin Street to the north. It was built in memory of the Italian missionary St. Daniele Comboni, who died in Sudan and was buried in Khartoum in 1881. His followers constructed this monument in 1929. At the beginning, the building served as a school to train Christian religion school teachers. Over time, it began to house schools and colleges. Today, it contains primary and secondary schools, as well as language and computer colleges and institutes.
Father Jorge Naranjo, Dean of the University College Comboni, says the history of this compound began with secondary schools, with primary schools added from 1951, and finally the University College in 2001. “South Sudanese were involved with this facility since its establishment,” he said. “The committee formed to establish the Comboni Schools in 1928 included three southerners who were monks in the Archbishopric of the Catholic Church Diocese in Sudan. This relationship continues up to now.”
CCK has a number of branches spread across Khartoum and in some other Sudanese states. During the wars and widespread displacements, the numbers of southern students at the institution peaked. “Comboni provided a sanctuary for us. Even people who did not study there, would visit,” said Mr. Peter Adao, explaining that the nature of the religious institution “added a bit of tranquility in the souls of the Southerners coming from the scourge of wars.”
Peter, who works for a Khartoum-based company, added that church support and, in particular, its good scholarships attracted many southerners to the CCK. As it has long been a spiritual and educational centre for southerners in Khartoum, he said it is not surprising that they are considering moving the institution to Juba.
2. Cathedral of St Matthew
Overlooking the Nile at the end of Al-Mek Nimir Avenue in Khartoum, this church was constructed by a number of Italian monks in roughly 1930. They were likely fellow monks of those who founded the Comboni schools. It now represents the top authority of Catholics in Sudan.
Priest Vaolino Deo said the large church was a magnet for southerners, a place to recall rites of passage and mark official occasions. “A large number of families often attend prayers and feasts here,” he said.
Chol Deng, a southerner who regularly attends the sermons, said the church’s key role was thanks to “its unique location in the centre of the capital and at the crossroads of its three cities”. As well as religious services, the church hosts weddings, social activities and cultural events like theatre performances and more. It encourages the development of strong cultural and social ties among the South Sudanese community.
3. Comboni grounds
The CCK recreation area is located in Sayed Abdel Rahman Street, about 100 metres north of Khartoum hospital. There are football, volleyball, and basketball pitches and swimming pools. As well as male supervisors for male athletes, there are female supervisors to train the female students.
Father Jorge outlined the area’s long history: “It was bought from the Sudanese government after the first secondary school was established. The first pitches date back to 1936.”
The facility has always been a favourite spot among young southerners. As well as academic events, it has hosted a multitude of festivals and celebrations.
4. Al-Sultan al-Shami restaurant and cafeteria
This spot has been called al-Sultan al-Shami since 2001 and before then it was known as Victoria Hotel, Restaurant and Bar. It overlooks al-Qasr Street (previously Victoria Street) and stands, pride of place, just 200 metres south of the Republican Palace.
Victoria hotel was founded by a Coptic Sudanese named Tadros Abdel Massih in the 1940s, or maybe even earlier. Initially, it attracted a small number of southerners, mostly senior staff and prominent figures in the 1960s and 1970s.
After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was inked in 2005, a far greater number of southerners flocked to the place in its new guise as al-Sultan al-Shami restaurant and cafeteria.
It was popular because it was near the CCK and other favourite locations of the southerners, plus it was near the station.
Intellectuals and students from the south represent the lion’s share of the restaurant customers, in addition to business people, because of its proximity to the banks and the shops of downtown Khartoum.
5. Naivasha Market
This busy market dates from the 1960s when it took over from a row of colonial-era shops known as Frangi Market. It is located in el-Gamhuriya Avenue in Khartoum and was founded by Sudanese Copts and some Europeans during the English rule.
The market included famous goldsmith shops, international clothing and footwear franchises, and also leading law firms.
The southerners began to frequent the market in the 1970s, during the Nimeiri era, after the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed with the Anyanya Movement, led by Joseph Lagu.
Frangi Market was renamed in 2005 to Naivasha Market, following the signing of the CPA. Back then, a feeling of relief prevailed among the southern community, especially after John Garang’s visit to Khartoum.
Notably, southerners work side by side with northerners in the Naivasha Market. Southerners report they do not feel any sense of discrimination or racism there, even after secession in 2011. But the division of the Sudans did prompt the return of a considerable number of southerners to their native country. Even so, today, South Sudanese are still in the majority in the market place, which also attracts a large number of Sudanese, not least because of its wide selection of international brand names.