Leading up the Death of Blessed Benedict

From the time of his conversion and especially since his marriage in Church the pattern of Benedict’s life is very clear. He was totally committed to Christ and to the Catholic Church in which he was an enthusiastic and active leader. At the same time, he was also deeply involved and very influential in the life of the village. In both of these roles Benedict was always guided by his faith. He was never ashamed to admit his great trust in God. According to Hendrick Mughivi, “Benedict would say in front of everyone that it was God who would give him strength”.

The catechist, Norman Tshifura, speaks of the link between faith and truth in Benedict’s life, “Benedict stood for the truth because of his faith. It was not just a matter of knowledge; it was through his faith because it opened his eyes. When he saw someone, he saw the likeness of God. He learned from Saints like St. Benedict. He knew his faith through the truth of the Church. He made himself strong through his faith and the catechism”. His growing in faith led him to an ever deeper involvement in the Church and in the community as Baldwin Mutshutshu recalls, “The older he got, the more his faith developed. He was more involved in the parish at the time of his death than ever before. He was involved in many things”.

Benedict’s faith was nourished by the regular reception of Jesus in the Eucharist. This great mystery of faith and love meant everything to him. It was the centre of his life. He would never miss Sunday Mass unless it was totally impossible to attend. We know this from Simon Khaukanani, “Benedict had a great love for the Mass and would walk about 4 or 5 kilometres to attend Church at Muramba, Malavuwe”. Over the years he had matured in his faith and was ready to face whatever challenges might come as we learn from Chris Mphaphuli, “He knew who he was, what his faith was, and therefore come what may, he was ready for everything”.

As Benedict’s faith was growing all the time, so also was the opposition to him at the Headman’s Council and among the people in the village. His stance against witchcraft was not a popular one, since he was opposing something very deep in the local culture. There were others who, like Benedict, saw the world of witchcraft as one of evil, fear, mistrust, enmity, injustice and violence which the people should abandon and put behind them. However, these, among them ministers of religion, kept quiet out of fear of reprisal.

Benedict was different. In the words of one of the parishioners, Samson Managa, “Benedict spoke openly and strongly in public opposing people who wanted to use witchcraft. He didn’t believe in witchcraft, diviners, fortune tellers, etc”. His brother Calson reminds us that Benedict’s stance came from his Christian faith, “One thing is for sure, Benedict Daswa did not compromise his stand. He stuck to his Christian values: Don’t kill, don’t believe in witchcraft”. He defended people’s right not to kill witches or chase them away. Agnes Ramukumba recalls that Benedict, “defended people who did not want to pay to consult the sangoma, he did not want people to pay for something that was not true”. Above all, Benedict didn’t want any innocent person killed or banished from the village as a supposed witch.

What normally happens is that through hearsay, whispering and gossip, fingers are pointed at a certain individual, often an old woman or some other vulnerable person. People do not look for any proof of guilt but go to a sangoma who usually confirms their suspicions. The accused is given no possibility of defence. Benedict was very much aware of the damaging effects of gossip in the whole area of witchcraft. Chris Mphaphuli reports that, “Benedict despised gossip and would not be party to it. He was always seeking the truth in any situation and advocated speaking directly to the person with whom he had a problem”. According to Norman Tshifura, “There were people who hated him for standing for the truth and not allowing things to interfere with his faith”. Deacon Jonas Letlalo also emphasised this point that, “Benedict would not do something against or in contradiction to his faith”.

Everyone knew about Benedict’s principled stance against the use of muti to bring success to the Mbahe Eleven Computers soccer team. Some spread the rumour that Benedict himself was dabbling in witchcraft by having zombies help him in his garden. There was a lot of jealousy and resentment against Benedict. This was not only on account of his opposition to witchcraft but also because of his success in life. He was a respected man with a nice house. He was a good school principal and a leader in the Transvaal United African Teachers Association. He was active in the Church and in the Headman’s Council. Moreover, he was a close friend of the Headman.

According to his sister, Thinavhuyo, there were some people who believed that, “Benedict and the Headman were very protective of those people who were suspected of evil things in the village”. As a popular and highly-respected person Benedict was often invited to be the Master of Ceremonies at weddings. He had a high and a rising status in the village and some people didn’t like that.

During the late nineties there was a big increase in the number of witchcraft related crimes including a large number of deaths in the Venda homeland. Many were living in fear. Baldwin Mutshutshu recalls that, “People suspected of witchcraft were hiding in police stations”. Many of the crimes were politically motivated to help in the struggle against apartheid. By this time certain people had become blinded by jealousy and hatred of Benedict and decided the time had come to get rid of him. They didn’t want him with his Catholic faith influencing the people, especially the youth, against the traditional practice of witchcraft. In the words of one of his friends, Benedict “was killed because of his faith. They wanted him dead because of his influence on the community especially the young”. In the words of Convince Makwarela, “Benedict was killed because he stood for the truth”.

The lightning strikes against some houses in the village during the period November 1989 to January 1990 gave them the opportunity to target Benedict. It is very widely believed that when lightning strikes a home, this is caused by a person whom the people regard as a witch. Witches should be caught and eliminated and so should anyone who protects them because they are a menace to society. This has been the traditional culture.

Benedict was aware of the mounting pressure against him. He was also aware of the seriousness of lightning strikes against homes. These were seen as affecting the village and not just individual families. Therefore they had to be discussed by the headman’s council. Referring to Benedict’s position in this matter his brother, Calson, says, “Benedict would have known it was a very dangerous stand to take and knew the risks”.

Benedict asked his close friends to pray for him, “Let’s pray hard. Let’s pray hard for the problems happening to me”. Samson Nephiphidi has a vivid memory of Benedict prayerfully reading his Bible in Church on the last Sunday of his life on earth, “What I can tell you is that the Sunday before his death, he came to Church and he opened his Bible silently. He was reading his Bible for a very long time before the Sunday Service”.