Daswa will be South Africa’s first Catholic martyr

30 March 2015

Benedict Daswa, who was stoned, beaten and burnt to death for his Catholic beliefs, would be beatified on 13 September at Thohoyandou Venda in Limpopo, The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference announced on 27 March.

He will be the first blessed martyr of the Catholic Church in South Africa, and may eventually become the first South African saint.

The conference’s Father Smilo Mngadi said the Beatification Mass would be celebrated by Pope Francis’s representative, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Beatification in the Roman Catholic Church is a declaration by the Pope that a dead person is in a state of bliss, constituting a first step towards canonisation – or being declared a saint – and permitting public veneration.

Daswa was born in 1946 in the village of Mbahe and was baptised as a Catholic on April 21, 1963. He was a primary school teacher, going on to become principal of Nweli Primary School. In 1980, he married Shadi, with whom he had eight children.

Described as a highly skilled educator and an exemplary husband and father, Daswa was involved in the parish community as catechist, liturgical animator, promotor of works of charity, and a builder of justice and peace.

In his private and public life, he took a strong stand against witchcraft, rife throughout the region, because it sometimes led to the killing of innocent people. A group of men attacked him not far from his home on 2 February 1990 for his stand against witchcraft, and he was praying on his knees when they killed him.

His fame as a martyr soon spread; each year, on the anniversary of his death, a growing number of people make a pilgrimage to his grave.

On 22 January, Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree on the martyrdom of Daswa. This opened the way for his beatification, a public recognition by the Catholic Church that Daswa is indeed a blessed martyr of Christ and intercedes in heaven before God for the needs of God’s people.

The Diocese of Tzaneen has obtained land in Tshitanini village, near where Daswa lived most of his life, where a shrine will be built in his honour. Pilgrims will be able to visit the shrine.

“He had taken a principled stand against witchcraft. He did so openly even though there were attempts on his life before he became a martyr,” Bishop Hugh Slattery, who headed the campaign for the beatification, told Sapa news wires.

Daswa’s story was contained in a report of almost 1 000 pages submitted to the Vatican.

He was born Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa in 1946, a member of the Lemba tribe. This tribe followed Jewish rituals and laws. Daswa was exposed to Roman Catholicism through a friend he met in Johannesburg; he converted in 1963 and became an active member of the church.

The cause of beatification began on 10 June 2008 on a diocesan level, which concluded in 2009. Pope Francis approved a decree that recognised his martyrdom on 22 January this year, paving the way for his beatification.

SAinfo reporter