A plaque commemorating the first Diakonia Good Friday service was unveiled at the remaining wall of the former Durban Central Prison, on 1 April.
The unveiling coincided with the 30th Anniversary of the annual ecumenical early morning service.
It was on 5 April 1985 when the first ecumenical Good Friday service procession wound its way in silence at dawn through the streets of Durban from the Central Methodist Church to the Durban Central Prison, to pray for sixteen treason trialists incarcerated there, among them Frank Chikane, Albertina Sisulu, Sam Kikine and Archie Gumede, and other political prisoners in jails throughout the country.
Outside the walls of the prison, the worshippers said prayers and sang hymns as the prisoners listened from inside.
Since then Diakonia Council of Churches has held annual Good Friday services and each year highlighting one particular aspect of national suffering and injustice.
Speaking during the unveiling ceremony, Bishop Mike Vorster of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa chronicled the history of the service noting that South Africa still faces similar challenges that continue to ‘crucify’ people even today.
“We are still facing many challenges today and these can be summed up in one word, abuse. We suffer abuse by financial institutions. If we look at them today, we see that they fall horribly short of the three principles of honesty, integrity and fair dealing.
“People are exploited through debt and through other means by these institutions. Each year we see how the captains of industry receive huge bonuses and those at the other end of the scale have to fight with their lives in order to get a mere twelve percent increase. The people who are faced with such a reality are in fact crucified today because of this economic injustice,” Bishop Vorster said.
He said the other worrying forms of abuse are that of women and children. “It is disheartening to read about the statistics of women who are killed by their partners. The abuse of children is absolutely disturbing. 2014 was the worst year on record in this country on the abuse of children. How can a society murder its own children? How can a society rape babies? How can a society allow that to happen?” he asked.
Bishop Vorster spoke strongly about the need for healing in South Africa adding that we are an extremely traumatised society. “The process that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission started was only setting the agenda for us to continue the conversation. We need to revive that conversation so that we can create spaces where people can talk about their hurts. Most of us are walking around with these tremendous traumatic experiences which are not dealt with,” he said.
He ended by affirming the service as the church’s way of saying another world is possible: “The ecumenical Good Friday service is the visible expression of the church to Durban each and every year that it is still prophetic and is still consistent with its message that we want justice for all, not just for some.”