Easter is a period of unity and reflection

About 80% of the population in our country identifies as members of the Christian denomination.

About 80% of the population in our country identifies as members of the Christian denomination.

Published Mar 31, 2024



This past Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa released a nationwide statement wishing South Africa’s “diverse Christian denominations a peaceful and safe Easter holiday period”.

The president said that the Easter season essentially “allows us to connect with family, friends and the community around us and to explore our most beautiful country”.

He added, statesmanly: “The prayers and reflection that define Easter renew the spirit of the nation.”

About 80% of the population in our country identifies as members of the Christian denomination. The same majority can be found throughout southern Africa. Easter is an intrinsic festival of the Christian religion, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his Crucifixion.

In Christianity, Easter is the culmination of the Lenten (Lent) calendar, which commemorates a period of 40 days that Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by Satan. The period of Lent is characterised by prayer, fasting and “almsgiving” (charitable deeds).

For Christians, it is a period of introspection, preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God.

The Jewish celebration of the Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, also took place last Monday. The Passover is a fundamental holiday in the Jewish liturgical calendar commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery. This time is characterised by prayers, traditional recitations and the consumption of foods of symbolic significance commemorating the Hebrews’ (Israelites) liberation. The Passover, rooted in the narrative of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah, is a story that has shaped Jewish consciousness and values. According to the Biblical definition in the Old Testament’s book of Hebrews the Israelites, and Jews, are all referred to homogeneously.

And then, in the Islamic calendar, it is the month of Ramadaan. It is during this month that Muslims believe the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During this period, Muslims are required to fast, give to charity, show kindness and patience, and strengthen their relationship with God. Although some Muslims,- such as those who are in ill-health, young children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and menstruating women, are exempt from fasting, all other Muslims are required to fast throughout the day (including water) until after sunset.

The Passover and Easter celebrations find echoes in the Islamic holy book: the Qur’an. In fact, the prophet Moses is the most frequently mentioned individual in Qur’an, with his name appearing 136 times. Moses is considered the most important prophet in Judaism, and one of the most important prophets in Christianity, Islam, Rastafarianism and Samaritanism, to name a few.

The commonalities across world religions have been extensively studied. One can highlight what is significant across these religions, particularly Abrahamic religions, as well as the commonalities across rituals, scriptures, sacred days, moral conduct and gathering places.

The Zion Christian Church (ZCC), being the largest church in southern Africa, constitutes more than 12 million members. Although they will not be undertaking their annual Easter pilgrimage to Moria, Limpopo this year, their annual mass gathering in Podungwane, Limpopo, is in effect. Similarly, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, will take place during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, and will see close to two million in attendance.

Christianity, together with Islam, are two dominant religions in Africa. Typically, Easter weekend is a time when the roads are flooded with travellers and numerous road accidents take place. The number of fatal crashes increased by 33%, from 156 during 2022 Easter to 207 in the Easter of 2023. The number of fatalities increased by184 in 2022 to 252 in 2023, growing by 37%. It is exceedingly tragic that a weekend filled with spirituality, charitable deeds, friendship and familial convergence is so often ridden with devastation and distress.

In his nationwide address, President Ramaphosa contended that Easter “does not have to be a time where we sit back and wait to see statistics on tragedy or injuries on our roads or at places where people come together in large numbers”. He concluded with an impassioned appeal to of us to “do our best to make this a safe Easter”.

Sadly, not everyone across the globe will be sharing in the religious traditions and community that others will be enjoying. Palestinian Christians in Gaza will be spending their Easter under heavy bombardment and persecution, the same way Palestinian Muslims are spending Ramadaan.

Ultimately, the war in Gaza has been deceptively presented as a religious war, when, in actuality, it is far from one.

The war that is taking place over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a major religious centre, is a war over land, not a religious conflict. It is therefore destructive and detrimental to the people who occupy the lands, the citizens of Palestine, who are endlessly engulfed in the throes of war. It is those who have been displaced, who have lost children, who have been rendered orphans and who have been irreversibly brutalised, that are suffering the most.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed in this war, and many more have been injured and brutalised. Entire neighbourhoods are uninhabitable. Hospitals, schools and even refugee centres have been obliterated in this war.

It is vital that we shed a stark light on this atrocity as we embark on this Easter weekend. It is pertinent that we remember those whose lives are irretrievably impacted at this time, those who cannot share in the joys and spirituality of their faith due to the uncontrollable circumstances of their home-nations.

What is particularly remarkable about religion is its ability to consolidate diverse groups of people and bring attention to the morals and values of humanity.

Religion in society is an important propeller of health, economic well-being, education, unity, morality, stability and community, to name a few. It affects social stability in ways that are not obviously presented. It drives collaboration, inside and outside one’s community.

Ultimately, it highlights the importance of a belief system, which is an intrinsic part of being a human being in our contemporary world. As Albert Einstein once meticulously observed: “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”

Tswelopele Makoe is a gender activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent and IOL, Global South Media Network and Eswatini Times. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.