Diakonia Council of Churches reaffirmed their and the churches role to develop and strengthen social justice activism and get the next generation of activists excited about working for social justice and human rights at their 40th commemorative gala dinner at the Greyville Convention Centre on Friday 25 November.

Chairperson of Diakonia Council of Churches, Revd Ian Booth welcomed the guests who included former anti-apartheid activists, church leadership, business, political and civil society organisations. Revd Booth said it was important to reflect upon, and celebrate the 40-year milestone of service to the community of Durban in working towards a transformed society in South Africa.

Revd Frank Chikane, guest speaker for the evening brought up the role youth have played in transformation. “The #FeesMustFall protests have brought in a startling reality of the contradictions that we are facing in this country – that 22 years after our freedom, there are still be people who are not be able to live normal lives, not able to have food on their tables and a roof over their heads, not able to travel to work and not just work for the travel costs. The students have made us understand that actually twenty years later, ‘I’m still defined by how poor my parents are. And that the possibilities of accessing my rights depend on where I was born.  If I was born in the wrong place then I can’t get the opportunities that others get.’ That is why church leaders were in solidarity with the students because we are saying the conditions or the historical place you were born must not determine your future.  The fact that your parents were poor in a liberated South Africa must not determine your future.  Can we create a society where the poor will have the same possibilities as what God wants them to be? I think that is the greatest challenge.” he said.

Chikane said the churches need to come together beyond the boundaries of denominations to deal with the social issues affecting South Africa. “The vision of Diakonia is very relevant, a transformed society actively working for social justice. We need to return to radical ecumenism of Denis Hurley when he started Diakonia, break the walls of separation between churches and the people. Churches must be agents of change.” he added.

The evening included a panel chaired by Alex Mthiyane, consisting of Xolani Dube, Nompilo Mkhize and Revd Paul Verryn.

In a symbolic dedication of the theme for the night: “Keeping the Social Justice Flame Alive,” former director of Diakonia, Paddy Kearney, current executive director Nomabelu Mvambo-Dandala as well as young people from various churches and organisations ignited torches, showing their passion to continue with the work of social justice and the transformation the elders had started.

The youth play an integral part in transforming society, Mvambo-Dandala said. She was happy to hand over the baton to young leaders and happy to see the new generation of social justice activists play a role.

Bishop Rubin Phillip toasted Diakonia’s forty years which he said was a very significant period. “It is a time to look back and also to look forward and give thanks for the leaders of the past and the young people that take over the torch for the future,”

Revd Booth together with current executive director Mvambo-Dandala and former director Kearney cut the cake in celebration at the function and South African singer, Lloyd Cele entertained the guests.

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