Benedict Daswa died a martyr for his stand against sorcery
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
South Africa may soon have its first canonized saint. Benedict Daswa, a teacher, community leader, father, and faithful Catholic, was martyred 22 years ago for living his faith and refusing to participate in a village witch-hunt.
Renewed efforts to have Daswa canonized have coincided with Pope Benedict XVI's call for Africans to identify saints. The Diocese of Tzaneen concluded an exhaustive look into Daswa's life and death in 2009, and the Vatican might conclude its look into his cause by the end of the year.
No recent miracle has to be authenticated at this stage, as Daswa was martyred for his faith. However there are still many steps to be taken before he can be canonized.
The terrible story begins in the shadow of a crumbling apartheid. The year was 1990, and South Africa was about to become very violent as generations of tensions between blacks and whites boiled over. But the violence that took Daswa's life was based on superstition, not racial injustice.
The people of Daswa's village of Nweli, like many in South Africa, still believed in sorcery, but Daswa did not. He held firm to his faith, believing witchcraft to be idolatry and false teaching. This stand cost him his life.
When lightning began to strike homes in his village, village elders blamed the storms on witchcraft, and agreed to consult a traditional healer to find the witch responsible. Daswa, also an elder, disagreed, and refused to be a part of the witch-hunt.
He was brutally murdered by a mob one week later. Before his skull was crushed by a knobkerrie (an African club) Daswa cried, "God, into Your hands receive my spirit."
An investigation followed Daswa's murder but no charges were laid.
Tshimangadzo Samuel (Benedict) Daswa was born to Jewish parents in 1946. After he graduated from high school his father died in a work accident and Daswa, the oldest of five children, worked to support his siblings.
While living in Johannesburg during school holidays with his uncle, Daswa had become friends with a young white Catholic man. When he returned to his village he joined a group of Catholics who met under a fig tree. Daswa was received into the Church and took his first name from his inspiring catechist teacher, Benedict Risimati.
Daswa obtained a primary teacher's certificate and worked in education for the rest of his life. He became principal of Nweli Primary School in 1977, a position he held until his death.
Daswa had eight children and was a faithful servant of the Church. He prayed with his family every evening and attended Mass on Sundays. He also led a Sunday service when a priest was unavailable (Nweli's location made it difficult for a priest to celebrate Mass every week).
Villagers recalled Daswa as a principled man who gave back to his community and helped black children in a time when South Africa's apartheid government did very little.
More information on Benedict Daswa can be found at www.benedictdaswa.com.