, 15 September, 2020 / 9:10 PM
At the fifth anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Benedict Daswa, South Africa’s first potential saint, a Bishop in the country has hailed the martyr’s forgiving attitude toward his killers and and encouraged the people of God in the country to emulate him.
“He did not hold the sins of those who killed him against them,” Bishop João Noé Rodrigues of South Africa’s Tzaneen Diocese said Sunday, September 13 in reference to Blessed Daswa and added, “He died in prayer and the prayer recognized to have been in his heart and lips was the prayer of abandoning one’s life to God-Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Bishop Rodrigues who was speaking during Mass at Good Shepherd Catholic Church-Phalaborwa, the hometown of Blessed Daswa further said, “Benedict Daswa died in that spirit of not seeking revenge or of wanting his enemies to suffer for the sins, but at peace with life in his last piece of breath.”
That Blessed Daswa died having forgiven his persecutors, the 65-year-old South African Prelate said, is a “wonderful testimony” for the Christians of Tzaneen diocese as well as in South Africa and beyond.
“God forgives from the heart. An important teaching for us and it underlines why we acclaim Blessed Benedict Daswa, a martyr of Christ,” Bishop Rodrigues said.
Blessed Benedict Daswa was a 43-year-old teacher from Limpopo, northern South Africa who was killed by fellow villagers for his lack of belief in witchcraft, which he considered to be against the teachings of the Church.
In her message on the fifth anniversary since the beatification of Blessed Daswa obtained by ACI Africa, the Promoter of the Canonization Cause of Blessed Daswa, Sr. Tshifhiwa Munzhedzi remembered him “as a man of prayer, a man who loved the church and would do anything for the church.”
“That is why he promised his wife he would not build her a house until he had built a church, a house of God, a promise he fulfilled as soon as the church was built,” the Dominican nun said and added in reference to Blessed Daswa, “He is known for his charity work, at school, in his community, in the church and with his extended family.”
Born on June 16, 1946 as Tshimangadzo Samuel Daswa to the Jewish Lemba tribe in rural Limpopo, the northernmost province of South Africa, he adopted the name Benedict upon converting from Judaism.
An account of his life indicates that a November 1989 storm accompanied by lightning strikes hit Daswa’s village, with a similar catastrophe being experienced three months later.
The village elders believed that the lightning catastrophe was occasioned by magic, and thus demanded a financial contribution from each village to pay “sangoma (traditional healer)” who would “sniff out” the witch.
Daswa, a staunch Catholic and non-believer in the magic narrative, refused to pay the tax insisting that the lightning was a natural phenomenon.
While driving back home from a family errand on February 2, 1990 at 7.30 p.m., he found the road blocked by fallen trees. As he removed the trees, a group of young men who had waylaid him in a nearby bush ambushed him and started stoning him.
A wounded and heavily bleeding Daswa ran to a neighboring woman’s house for refuge, but the woman gave him up after the young men threatened to kill her. Daswa was hit on the head, and hot water poured into his ears and nose.
As he died, he said, “God, into your hands, receive my spirit."
During his burial on February 10, 1990, celebrants wore red vestments as an indication that he died due to his attackers’ hatred for his faith.
A tombstone bought by his mother, Thidziambi Ida Daswa, a convert to Catholicism was unveiled during a special Mass in November 2000.
In January 2015, Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing his martyrdom, which allowed for his beatification.
In the decree, the Holy Father described Daswa as, “a layman, father of a family, martyr, diligent catechist, considerate teacher, witness of the Gospel until the shedding of blood.”
Following the decree, Daswa’s remains were later transferred to Nweli Catholic Church in August 2015 in readiness for his beatification on September 13, 2015.
An estimated 30,000 people among them his 91-year-old mother and his eight children attended the event held at Limpopo, which was presided over by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Angelo Cardinal Amato.
“The Holy Spirit transformed this young South African into an authentic hero of the Gospel. His heart was full of love for God and neighbor,” Cardinal Amato was quoted as saying in an interview, adding, “Benedict Daswa is like the first martyrs of the Church who, during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, defended their faith with prayer, courage and forgiveness of enemies.”
Mutshiro Michael, one of Blessed Daswa’s sons told Agence France Presse (AFP) during the beatification, “Proud is an understatement to describe what I feel.”
Pope Francis declared February 1 as Blessed Benedict Daswa’s Feast Day.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa