, 04 February, 2020 / 3:56 AM
At the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Benedict Daswa, South Africa’s first potential saint, a Church leader in the country has challenged Christians to heed to the challenge by the Blessed, to convert to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
“I believe that today we are being challenged to go even further, that Blessed Benedict Daswa is calling us to conversion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel,” the Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Cardinal Napier is quoted as saying Saturday, February 1, during a memorial Mass in honor of the Blessed at the site of Daswa’s future shrine in Tshitanini village.
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 God.
The Archbishop of Durban described Blessed Daswa as “a grain of wheat” and emphasized the value of the message of Jesus saying, it is only the Gospel that “can lead us to die to everything that is evil, everything that is sinful. That Gospel is the only thing that can change us into grains of wheat that will change our own lives, the lives of our children and all the men and women who want to be grains of wheat like Benedict.”
“That grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died,” the Archbishop of Durban reflected in reference to Blessed Daswa and explained, “Over the past thirty years that grain has germinated and began to produce many fruits. Some of those fruits are here today. Indeed, we who are here today are those fruits, plus many others who are not here but are praying with us.”
“It is men and women like Benedict that we need desperately to build up the real New South Africa, the South Africa we dreamed of 25 years ago, the South Africa with a new spirit and a new life in Christ,” the member of the Franciscan Order (OFM) added.
The 78-year-old Prelate reminded Christians, “The truth is that we are not really learning to be like Benedict Daswa, if we do not use today to make a new start; if we do not begin to believe and live as he did, even if it means dying like him in some way!”
He added, “one thing is certain, we will never build up the South Africa we all dream of, if we continue to loot and steal the resources and money needed to help care for the poor and needy.”
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 explains 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.
On February 2, 1990 while driving back home from a family errand 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 clubbed 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, and presided over by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Angelo Cardinal Amato.
Cardinal Amato was quoted as saying in an interview, “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. 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, a son of Daswa told Agence France Presse 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