Testimony of Helen Daswa

My Amazing Father

Greetings- I am Benedict’s very first daughter- proudly so, Mulalo. You understand the price I have to pay to proudly talk about my Dad. I am not alone. I have a big family seated here on my right hand side. There are not only two brothers here tonight: There is Sammy Lufuno the very first son. With this brother we have so much journeyed together. We were sent to St Brendan’s. We have together fond memories of our Dad. There is my second brother, Vhutshilo Michael. A third brother Zwothe Raymond as my younger brother is present. Thabelo Faith our sister is present. We were only three girls in the family. Not to forget, I wish to mention my sisters or cousins,- for we grew up together-, my eldest cousin Mpho and Vhonani. Also my Uncle Thanyani Mulumisi (Mackson), one of Benedict’s brothers, followed by another of Benedict’s brothers who is with us today, Muvhulawa (Calson) .

Where can I start? I’ll need courage to talk about my father like this- It’s tough. Sr Claudette has made mention that all this gathering here is because of my Dad- I do not have words to express my feelings properly. I was only 13 years old when he was killed. My last sight of him was to see his white bakkie, called a Ford by its name, reversing at the gate at home- and him telling me to tell mother he was going to drop someone in the nearest village. I did not know that it was my last conversation with him. I recall the red light reversing I wonder now if it was a premonition. I didn’t know then but I was the last to see Dad alive. I was the last of the family to see him. He told me to tell my mum that he would be coming back soon after dropping somebody to the nearest village. He was a man who took an interest in people’s life!

I am so proud to have been the last one to hear a word from him. It is not surprising as I have mentioned it that all of you are here to be listening about my Dad. He took such interest in people’s life in some many ways. As always he was well dressed and very neat. If you look at his picture on the Programme that’s him! He had an incredible love of life. If you look at the picture at the back who could not say that my Dad was always so a presentable man with his dress and a tie– and I was so proud of that. He was a very respectful and dignified Father. If I refer to the drama that we have just seen before, in his dress you see his dignity in his immaculate way. Grandmother and my uncles have filled me in with stories regarding his cleanliness – in his clothing, in the surroundings; you could say that my Dad had a “set” on cleanliness! How did my mother cope with this? The iron to iron clothes – was ever handy and used; my dad typically did it. How did mother cope with all that? (Laughter)

He had energy and took many options. He had a positive outlook on life. He had an incredible passion for farming -vegetables and fruits- through hard work. Cabbages were as big as buffaloes heads – (laughter) No joke! He worked hard in his overalls; we would often see him coming from the garden. He was of course a School Principal: How did my Dad manage to do it all? It is amazing! Plus his community work and his church work and actually run a family as well. How did he do it? Produce was shared within the extended family, then sold or given away for free to the needy. We were told not to waste food – when others suffer without food: “My daughter”, he would say, “remember this: those tomatoes that you have wasted! Food is not supposed to be wasted. You will remember when I am no more”. I now pass that onto my kids.

He was clear in his attitude and behaviour. He believed that a wife cannot face all the hard chores alone. I witnessed this as a young girl. He carried the laundry to the nearest river where he went to wash it himself. He would go to fetch and carry water for the rest of the family. In those days you know, water was very scarce. In the 80’s, there was a taboo: a man of his stature in our culture could not be seen doing such things as those. The whole principle and idea of cooking, carrying and fetching water was something not acceptable then for a man to do. Actually some people went on to talk and gossip. My Dad did not marry a Venda – again he went beyond the cultural boundaries not marrying somebody from the local community. This was not acceptable in those days. It shows that he would not be influenced by others’ beliefs and he went outside expectations. My dad had a firm belief in democracy and empowerment of women. Unfortunately he did not have long to enjoy it with Mandela being released about the time he was killed.

I was able to see his hard work, including the building of Nweli Catholic Church. The white bakkie would collect stones and he would also assist in collecting bricks – a lot of hard work went into it. With joy, my Dad took part in this project. Also the church was built before the family home. How many people could do that? He would call us together and invite us to the hard work of building it. With lots of tomatoes and cabbages for sale to pay for it. This was a lot of sacrifice. We got often angry, but he made us take part in the whole project. I was told by Grandma that he would go very, very far away to and collect bricks. So that our home could be built.

He was a very humble man. I am glad of that foundation. He taught us as children how to share the little we had with others. My sister will tell this well. Also taught us in a Christian way of life, giving Christian and Catholic teaching to us from a very young age. He did not hold us up from baptism till we were older. But he stressed our firm foundation for our future. This was very important to him. His vision was very important which not a lot of people have. This produced well-rounded children – good morals and ethics – he was one of those people to stress this. It helped us to become great and mature adults. I am very grateful for that. He sent us to St Brendan’s, a well-respected school.

What we went through with my brother! Getting up early for church: imagine after church – as kids we didn’t understand but now as an adult I can influence my people. We had to wait while Dad finished off church matters properly. He could go on for hours. We wanted to go home but he stayed on at the church almost for hours. We were very innocent.
In my heart I depended on him. A few things I still remember: he initiated and founded a Lemba group to get all youth to come together, to remain humble. It was all about the needs that every child has for guidance – it was youth development at its best.

My amazing Dad could keep me here with you for weeks and weeks. We are grateful for the little time we had together. My sister here was in my mother’s womb when Dad was killed. (Helen Mulalo cried. Congregation sang the hymn: Be still and know…was sung. Comfort was offered to both by their uncle Thanyani Mulimisi coming from his seat and lovingly putting his arms around both daughters. Helen continued)…I thought I would get through without tears. The wounds will open and reopen. What a great and loving Dad you are! A well-spoken man led by faith. A well-respected and respectful man to the people. A very humble man.

What would Dad have done? He would pick people at church with his bakkie and at youth conference he would have been the speaker. He was outstanding as a speaker. As you see I have a bit of that in me. He influenced greatly the youth in the community at large. We as his children are so excited to see his work being recognized in this manner. The only challenge of course is to live his legacy. In the UK where I lived and worked, I remember the person who was my boss when I was telling him my story, he told me, “But your Dad could have just paid these R5” – But for the sake of who he is and was, that is where the line was drawn! I have to ask myself: What would I do if I have to face this situation? I then can think of the story of my amazing dad and get guidance.

Thanks so much for listening. Thank you all for the many prayers. As our hearts are still aching and bleeding after that horrible death of my Dad, something that no one would wish to their worst enemy-, I offer this prayer: “God, grant him that he might look at your face and entrust him with eternal joy and peace!”