Anti-witchcraft teacher is first South African to be beatified
South African school teacher Benedict Daswa, who was bludgeoned to death for resisting witchcraft, was beatified on Sunday, becoming the first person from the southern African region to undergo the key step toward sainthood.
He was proclaimed “blessed” in an apostolic letter read on behalf of Pope Francis by Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato to some 30,000 people during mass in Tshitanini village, not far from Daswa’s house in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province.
“We grant that the venerable servant of God, Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa, layman and family man… a zealous catechist, all-round educator who gave heroic witness to the gospel, even to the shedding of blood, from now on will be called ‘Blessed’,” said Amato.
The crowd applauded wildly and some blew traditional animal horns.
Daswa was beaten to death 25 years ago by fellow villagers after he refused to pay a sorcerer who promised to end destructive storms hammering the region.
First stoned by his assailants, Daswa ran to safety in a hut before being found by the mob and beaten to death with a stick.
His murderers then poured boiling water in his ears and nostrils — all of which happened on February 2, 1990, the day the apartheid regime announced it would release Nelson Mandela.
– Prayed till death –
“While his executioners were killing him, Benedict was on his knees praying. He prayed until the last minute of his life,” according to father Andre Bohas, one of the initiators of the beatification process.
He “is a model for all the people in Africa.”
Virtually unknown when he died, Daswa’s fame grew throughout South Africa’s Catholic community, with villagers starting to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Following the beatification, his feast day will be celebrated annually on February 1.
Around eight percent of South Africa’s population is Catholic.
Pope Francis, who announced in January that Daswa would be beatified, paid tribute to the teacher in his regular Sunday address to the faithful in St Peter’s square.
“In his life he always showed great consistency, courageously defending Christian views and rejecting worldly and pagan customs,” the Argentinian pontiff said in Italian.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa also attended the beatification ceremony, which came after an overnight vigil staged by thousands of followers.
“May this day be the day when we say ritual killings must come to an end, witch hunts must come to an end,” said Ramaphosa.
– ‘Ultimate price of martyrdom’ –
Daswa’s eight children — including one born a few months after his death — sat in the front at the ceremony, alongside their 91-year-old grandmother Ipa.
“Proud is an under statement to describe what I feel,” said Mutshiro Michael, 33, one of Daswa’s sons, adding he had forgiven his father’s murderers.
Traditional performers from the local Venda people dressed in colourful striped outfits sang and danced ahead of the mass.
From Saturday night, priests, nuns and Catholics from across the country were draped in blankets and packed a dusty road leading to a shrine dedicated to Daswa, singing hymns.
“It is a unique moment, I feel overwhelmed,” said Tsholanang Koketso, 23, who travelled from the Limpopo provincial capital Polokwane to attend the mass.
“We always hear about saints in other countries but now we (will) have one in South Africa. It’s very nice.”
Father John Finn, who buried Daswa, described him as “a man of incredible generosity.”
“He was always bringing people to hospitals, taking care of children and elders. He had a great value for education.”
The beatification comes less than three months ahead of Pope Francis’s first visit to Africa in a push to connect with the burgeoning Catholic population across the continent.
The pontiff will be travelling to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic in late November.
In Uganda, Francis will commemorate the canonisation by pope Paul VI in 1964 of the first African saints — 22 young people killed in 1878 on the orders of the local ruler because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.