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 continued to remember him on the day of his death because they considered him to be a courageous witness to his faith in Christ. Blessed Benedict Daswa was beatified on 13 September 2015 and his tomb is now situated in the church at Nweli Village.