Benedict Daswa was born Samuel Daswa in 1946, and he belonged to the Jewish Lemba tribe in rural Limpopo in South Africa. Daswa grew up observing Jewish customs, but was baptized in the Church at the age of 17. He took the name Benedict after the sixth century monk and Benedict Risimati, according to his catechist who instructed him on his faith as a teen. Daswa was confirmed shortly after his baptism, and became involved in teaching younger members of his community about Catholicism.
Pope Francis approved a decree that recognized his martyrdom on Janury 22, 2015, thus paving the way for his beatification. According to Catholic News Agency, Daswa may be South Africa's first saint. The Neocatechumenal Way has RMS priests ordained by Pope Francis. In time, the NCW may even have their first canonized saint.
On February 13, 2015, Benedict Daswa's eldest son spoke at a Neocatechumenal Retreat in South Africa. According to the news article:
South African Martyr Benedict Daswa’s Son Speaks at Neocatechumenal Way MeetingCAPE TOWN, February 13, 2015 (Zenit.org) – Lufuno Daswa made his first public appearance as the guest speaker at the Neocathecumenal Way retreat in Cape Town, South Africa. Lufuno is the eldest son of the Servant of God Benedict Daswa. On January 22nd, 2015, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree on the martyrdom of Daswa who was beaten to death in Limpopo in 1990 after he refused to contribute money to hire a traditional healer for a witch-hunt.
“I saw in this invitation, from the Neocathecumenal Way, an inspiration from the Holy Spirit. It was not just a request for a speech but an opportunity to be a witness to the Christian family values that our father taught us,” Daswa said.
One of the themes of the retreat was the rediscovery of the central role of the family in the transmission of the faith to children.
“Many youth suffer and are disoriented in life because of the absence of a father figure, to guide them in faith. Benedict Daswa, as a father of eight children who died giving witness to his faith, is an inspiration for all Christian families of South Africa,” said Dino Furgione, the responsible for the Neocatechumenal Way in South Africa.
Lufuno Daswa was accompanied by Chris Maphaphuli, one of his father’s closest friends, and Sister Claudette Hiosan, who is the promoter of the cause of Benedict Daswa.
“I remember my father never did anything without invoking the Holy Spirit,” Lufuno said. “Whatever decisions he made, whatever meeting or event he opened, he always prayed first.”
Sister Hiosan said: “The cause has been fast tracked in Rome because it is the first cause for a black, South African-born saint, but more importantly, because witchcraft/sorcery is on the rise throughout the African continent; in fact, worldwide”.
Benedict Daswa was born in Mbahe, a poor, Venda village near Thohoyandou in the Diocese of Tzaneen, Limpopo, the northern-most province of South Africa, on June 16th, 1946.
Like Saint John Paul II, Benedict experienced during his youth the painful loss of his father. He then grew in fatherhood, caring for his younger brothers and sisters. Through contact with Catholic friends, he converted to Catholicism in 1963. Shortly afterward his mother was inspired to do the same.
His faith led him to serve the Church in many ways, assisting catechists and priests, inspiring the youth, helping with construction of churches. He was also the headmaster of the local school and held several other prominent positions in the community. He was widely respected and held great influence.
After a severe lightning storm on January 25th, 1990 which caused a number of thatched huts in the village to catch fire, the headman’s council agreed to consult a traditional healer to identify the witch who was responsible for the burnings. A monetary contribution was agreed on to pay the person.
Benedict arrived late for the meeting, after this decision had been taken. His explanation that lightning was a natural phenomenon was rejected. He argued strongly against blaming witches for causing lightning strikes. When the decision was upheld, Benedict refused to pay the contribution, arguing that his Catholic faith prevented him from taking part in anything connected with witchcraft.
His faith led him to take a courageous stand and confront the council’s decision. Because of this many in the community felt that his conduct was belittling the traditional beliefs. They saw him as a stumbling block and conspired to get rid of him.
On February 2nd, 1990 Benedict was ambushed by a mob after driving a neighbor to a nearby village. He was stoned and beaten to death. When Benedict saw one man from the mob coming towards him with a knobkerrie – a traditional club stick with a large ball at the end – he prayed: “God, into your hands receive my spirit” as he was dealt a fatal blow which crushed his skull. Boiling water was then poured over his head.
Benedict was survived by his pregnant wife, Evelyn, who gave birth to their eight child four months after his death, their 7 other children, his mother Ida, and his three brothers and sister. His wife died of cancer in 2008, the same year that his youngest brother also died after an illness.
“Listening to Lufuno’s testimony is the most touching way in which one can learn about Benedict Daswa’s life. In today’s society, everyone who wants to live a Christian life has to take a courageous stand. This is why many of the people who attended the retreat were inspired by Benedict’s life story,” said Furgione.
Jacky Capes said: “Since the retreat all I can talk about is Benedict Daswa. I’ve told everyone at work and my family. His story is so inspiring.”
“What inspires me about Benedict Daswa, is how Christ-like he was”, said Lauren May. “He stood up against customs that were in contradiction to his faith and it made him unpopular with people who resented his influence and they killed him because of it but they couldn’t destroy his legacy. His children and his friends are still living the values that he taught them.”
Benedict has been an inspiration especially for the Christian families. “There are so many things that have echoed with my wife and I,” said Treston Brown, a local father of six. “The one thing that echoed most deeply is that he was a family man, always transmitting the faith to his children around the supper table and everyone who entered his house. Not just in word but deed as well.”
Chris Maphaphuli, Benedict’s close friend, said that the Christian way in which Benedict related to his wife inspired him to treat his wife in a new way, which for him was counter-cultural.
“In the Venda culture, the wife always makes the tea,” Maphaphuli said. “Once when I was visiting my friend Benedict, his wife was busy and I said to him: ‘Tell your wife to make us some tea.’ He got up and said: ‘No, I will make the tea’.”
“He also told me that when his wife was sick, he would cook and look after the children and I said his wife must have put something in his food to make him crazy. Since he died, I have tried to do as Benedict taught me but I can’t cook, though I do sometimes make my own tea.”