About Benedict Daswa

Who is Benedict Daswa

Tshimangadzo Samuel DASWA, the firstborn son of Tshililo Petrus Daswa (Bakali) and Thidziambi Ida DASWA (Gundula), was born on 16th June 1946 in Mbahe Village situated 30 kilometres from Thohoyandou the main town of the former Venda Homeland, Limpopo Province, South Africa in the Diocese of Tzaneen.

The Daswa family belonged to the black African tribe called the Lemba or Black Jews. Their clan name was Bakali.

They followed the Semitic traditions such as kosher-like dietary restrictions, male circumcision rites, strict rules against inter-marriage and Semitic sounding clan names. These beliefs and practices were instilled in the children. Samuel’s parents were hardworking, enterprising and renowned for hospitality and kindness.

Samuel Daswa had three younger brothers and a sister: Thanyani Mackson. Muvhulawa Calson, Thinavhuyo Mavis and Humbulani Innocent (+).

As was common, he was a herd boy prior to going to school. From working in his father’s garden, he developed a great love of working with the soil and growing vegetables

The Vigil of Prayer and Holy Mass Poster

Influences in His Childhood

His primary education began in Vondwe Primary school in 1957. Later he attended Mbahe Primary School, Tshikonelo primary school at Ha-Matsheka and the Salvation Army William Eddie School in Tshidimbini village. He completed his secondary education at Mphaphuli High School.

Following the accidental death of his father, Samuel took on the responsibility of caring for his younger brothers and sister.  When he joined the workforce, he helped to pay for their education and continually encouraged them to study.

During school holidays he stayed with an uncle in Johannesburg where he took part-time work. At this time he became friendly with a young white man who was a Catholic. Several of his peers who were Shangaans were also Catholics.

After returning to Mbahe, Samuel joined a group of Catholics who met for instructions in the Catholic faith under a fig tree. The catechist was Benedict Risimati. He held the Sunday service and assisted the priest who came from Louis Trichardt once a month to celebrate Mass.  He had a strong influence on Samuel. Benedict Risimati after the death of his wife was ordained to the priesthood.

As a Young Adult

After two years instruction Samuel was baptised on 21st April 1963 by Fr. Augustine O’Brien, MSC, at Mafenya, Sibasa Parish. At the retreat preached before his baptism, he chose the name ‘Benedict’ as he was inspired by the motto of St Benedict ‘Ora et labora’ – ‘Pray and work’.

Three months later he was confirmed by Abbot Bishop F. Clemens van Hoek, O.S.B. at Sibasa.

Benedict attended the Vendaland Training Institute from which he graduated with a Primary Teacher’s Certificate. His first appointment was to Tshilivho Primary School at Ha-Dumasi Village. During this time he studied for the Matriculation Certificate by correspondence.

Benedict continued to be involved in the Church assisting the catechists and the priest. He had a particular interest in youth, taking groups of boys and girls away for weekends where he would teach them traditional skills.

Commitment to the Church

Building the first Catholic Church in the area at Nweli was a project dear to his heart. He worked tirelessly on the project encouraging others to do likewise.

Produce from his garden would be given to the needy. Those in need of transport could rely on him at any time for assistance.

In the general community, Benedict was highly respected. He was secretary of the Headman’s council and a confidante of the Headman. At social functions he was a popular Master of Ceremonies. He was known for his absolute honesty, truthfulness and integrity. He spoke his mind and was not swayed by popular opinion.

As Principal, he was an honest and fearless leader. He encouraged, supported and challenged his staff. The welfare of the students was his prime concern. In the case of absentees, he would visit the family to see if he could be of assistance.

Students, who were unable to pay school fees, were given work in his garden to provide the necessary funds.

The Price of Being Christian

In November 1989, heavy rains and lightning strikes were prevalent in the Venda area. This was not seen as a natural phenomenon. Some members of the community became very concerned as to who was responsible.

In early 1990, after a heavy downpour on Thursday 25th January, there were several lightning strikes in the area. The Headman, his council and the community met to discuss their concerns. It was agreed that a traditional healer be consulted to identify the witch who was responsible for the burnings. For this purpose a contribution of R5 per person was agreed on.

Benedict arrived after the decision was taken. His explanation that lightning was a natural phenomenon was greeted with scepticism. He argued against following the old ways and for blaming witches for causing lightning strikes.

When the decision held, Benedict refused to pay the R5 contribution. He argued that his Catholic faith prevented him from taking part in anything connected with witchcraft. Many in the community saw him as belittling the traditional beliefs and conspired to get rid of him because to them he was a stumbling block because of his Catholic faith and consistent stand against witchcraft.

On 2nd February 1990, Benedict drove his sister – in – law and her sick child to the doctor in Thohoyandou. En route, he picked up a man who asked for his help to take a bag of mealie meal to his home in a village adjacent to Mbahe.

Around 7.30 pm, Benedict returned to Mbahe. After leaving his sister – in – law and child near their home, he told his daughter he would return after taking his other passenger and his bag of mealie meal to the next village.

Returning home, Benedict found his way blocked by tree logs across the road. When he alighted, a mob of youths and adults came from behind trees and began throwing large stones at him. Bleeding and injured he left the car and ran across a soccer field hoping for assistance from nearby rondavels (round huts) one being a Shebeen.

He ran into a rondavel kitchen to hide. When the mob arrived they challenged the woman owner of the rondavel indicating that they would kill her if she did not reveal where Benedict was hiding.

Hearing their threat, Benedict came out. He asked them why they wanted to kill him. When Benedict saw one man from the mob coming towards him with a knobkerrie he added the prayer: “God, into your hands receive my spirit” as he was dealt a fatal blow from the knobkerrie which crushed his skull. Boiling water was then poured over his head.

The woman, who owned the rondavel, ran to tell Mackson, Benedict’s brother, what had happened. After calling the Police, he stayed with Benedict’s body throughout the night.

Police came and after surveying the crime scene remained in their car during the night due to widespread violence and burnings in the area. The following morning a police photographer and forensic specialist arrived and an investigation started. A number of people were arrested for Benedict’s brutal murder. When the case came to court it was dismissed through lack of evidence

The Mass of Christian Burial was held on Saturday 10th February, 1990. The procession began at Benedict’s home in Mbahe then proceeded to Nweli Church.

The Mass was concelebrated by several priests with Fr. John Finn, M.S.C., Parish Priest of Thohoyandou/Sibasa as the main celebrant. By common agreement all wore red vestments in acknowledgment of their belief that Benedict died for his Faith and that it was his stand against witchcraft which had brought about his death. A large crowd followed the proceedings and followed the coffin to the Mbahe grave yard.

Benedict’s mother, Ida Daswa became a Catholic some time prior to her son’s death. She saved her pension to buy a tombstone for the grave. This was unveiled at a special ceremony including Mass on 26th November, 2000 and attended by a large number of people from Sibasa parish.

Until 2005, the Catholic community gathered on the Sunday nearest to All Souls’ Day to pray at Benedict’s grave. Since the beginning of the preliminary inquiry for the Cause of his Beatification, the Catholic community of the Nweli District wish to remember him on the day of his death (2nd February), as they considered him as a courageous witness to his faith