Blessed Benedict Daswa (16 June 1946 – 2 February 1990), born Tshimangadzo Samuel Daswa, was a South African school teacher and principal. He was given the name of “Samuel” by his parents when he started to attend school and assumed the name “Benedict” upon his conversion. A local mob murdered him when he refused to fund their anti-Catholic witchcraft superstitions. (via Wikipedia)
Benedict Daswa was born as Tshimangadzo Samuel Daswa on 16 June 1946 in South Africa and was a member of the Lemba tribe. He the first child born to Tshililo Petrus Daswa (Bakali) and Thidziambi Ida Daswa (Gundula). This tribe followed Jewish rituals and laws. Daswa had three younger brothers and one sister: Thanyani Mackson, Muvhulawa Calson, Thinavhuyo Mavis and Humbulani Innocent. Daswa worked as a herd boy before he attended school which started at Vondwe Primary School in 1957 which was followed by secondary school at Mphaphuli High School. After his father’s accidental death, it fell to him to provide for his siblings and did this by paying for their education while in the workforce. In the workforce, he helped pay for his siblings’ education and constantly encouraged them to take pride in their studies.
Daswa was exposed to Roman Catholicism through a friend he met while in Johannesburg while living with an uncle there. He learnt about the Catholic faith and learnt catechism every Sunday from Benedict Risimati. After two years of instruction, Daswa was baptized on 21 April 1963 by Father Augustine O’Brien. He took the name of “Benedict” due to the fact that he was inspired by Saint Benedict of Nursia, also selecting as his life motto “Ora et labora” (pray and work). He was confirmed by Abbot Bishop F. Clemens van Hoek, O.S.B. three months later on 21 July 1963.
He became an active member of the church in South Africa. Daswa went to Venda Teacher Training College to do a primary teacher’s certificate and later obtained his matriculation through correspondence in 1973. He served as a teacher and catechist as he worked with adolescents and he assisted families that endured economic hardship. Daswa was a highly respected individual in his local community and became known for his honesty, truthfulness and integrity, even known to fetch students who decided to skip schools. Daswa later helped to build the first church in his area and later became the principal of the school that he taught at on 1 January 1979 at Nweli Primary School. He once convinced a father who wanted to marry off his daughter to an older man to allow the girl to complete her education.
Daswa married Shadi Eveline Monyai (d. 2008) in 1974 and the pair had a total of eight children, including Lufuno (b. 1977) who was the eldest, Benedicta (b. 1990), Helen and Faith. He would help his wife with household chores, unheard of at that time in his area, and he valued his family to the point of hosting Daswa Family Days each 16 December where gifts would be exchanged and a meal held. For his family, he personally built his brick house. Daswa also established a soccer team called the Mbahe Eleven Computers and left this team when members wanted to use “muti” (medicine) in order to win games. He started a new team, Mbahe Freedom Rebels. He was an active member of his community, serving as the secretary of the local traditional council; the local chief valued his counsel.
In November 1989, heavy rains and lightning strikes plagued the area. When his village suffered strong storms again in January 1990, the elders decided that the lightning occurred due to magic and thus demanded a tax from all their residents to pay for a sangoma to “sniff out” the witch who caused the storms. Refusing to believe this, Daswa said they were just a natural phenomenon and declined to pay the tax.
On 2 February 1990, Daswa drove his sister-in-law and her sick child to a doctor in Thohoyandou and en route, picked up a man who asked for his help to take a bag of mealie meal to his home in a town next to Mbahe. At around 7:30pm, he returned to Mbahe where he left his sister-in-law and child near their home. He told his daughter that he would soon return after taking the passenger to the next village.
Returning home, found his path blocked by fallen trees and as he attempted to clear the road he was ambushed by a mob of young men. Bleeding as a result of stoning, he left his damaged car and ran for assistance at a woman’s hut. However, the woman revealed where he was when the mob threatened to kill her if she did not comply. As a result of this, he was beaten and clubbed over the head. Boiling water was poured over him in his ears and nostrils after he was attacked to ensure that he was dead. His final words were, “God, into Your hands receive my spirit”. The woman of the hut informed Daswa’s brother what had happened and the latter remained with his dead brother for the night. The search for a “witch” and the killing of Daswa are both particularly clear examples of the theory of scapegoating proposed by Rene Girard.