SA defiance on Good Friday
by Brian Dooley
IN a defiant act aimed at focussing attention on the latest restrictions imposed by the South African Government on antidetention protests, Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban lead an ecumenical service which made direct reference to local children imprisoned without trial.
The service, which took place on Good Friday, was described to the Catholic Herald by Archbishop Hurley.
"The service began in a Methodist Church", he said, "and we had a large cross and 60 smaller crosses which represented those in the Durban area who have been detained. It was a non-racial gathering of about six or seven hundred people, and we made clear and unambiguous reference to the detainees".
This latest demonstration follows those which were conducted in Cape Town earlier this month by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev Alan Boesak, and comes just two weeks before the Whitesonly general election.
During the Good Friday prayers, Archbishop Hurley said, a vehicle full of armed policemen drove' past, but took no action.
Some 20,000 people are thought to he held without trial,
including the General Secretary to the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Fr Smagaliso Mkhatshwa. Fr Mkhatshwa's counterpart in London, Mgr Vincent Nicholas, sent a message of support to him over the Easter period, a message which accused his captors of "unjust discrimination".
Over the Easter weekend, the South African Government tried to back-peddle on its restrictions which stipulated that prayers for the release of detainees were banned. General Coetzee, Commissioner of Police, issued a "clarificatory" statement which exempted individual protests such as prayers from the banning. Bishop Wilfred Napier, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, claimed that the statement was a "confidence trick", and said that the Church would not tolerate the Government's dictating what it could or could not pray for, and neither did the Church want any favours which would allow it any special exemption to campaign for the release of detainees legally.
So strong has the clampdown on protest been that the churches in South Africa may remain the last best hope of legitimate dissent.
An indication of the increasing radicalisation of the churches came earlier this week with the appointment of the Rev Frank Chikane as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, an organisation which represents over 13 million Christians, 80 per cent of whom are black.
Frank Chikane, who is in his thirties, • was charged with treason in f9g5 but tater aquitted. He has been tortured in South African jails and cowrote the Kairos Document, a theological comment on the political crisis in South Africa which is also a severe condemnation of the apartheid system.
Mr Chikane was also vicepresident of the now banned United Democratic Front, and was previously a follower of the black nationalist Steve Biko.
Exiled South African writer and Biko biographer, Donald Woods, told the Catholic Herald that the appointment of Mr Chikane was "excellent, the best possible choice at this time. He will carry on the fight against the detentions very vigorOusly".
With the election looming on May 6, any further protests are sure to embarrass the government.
Asked Bishop Napier; "Is (the government) afraid that it will have to face the wrath of Christians on election day who will not tolerate a government that usurps the right to decide the matters for which Christians may pray to their God?"