CAPE TOWN. – The Roman Catholic Church yesterday beatified South Africa’s first Catholic martyr, Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa, calling him “a person of deep prayer and spirituality”.
The beatification ceremony taking place in Tshitanini, Limpopo Province was watched by millions in South Africa and beyond.
“This is the first time in the history of the Catholic Church of Southern Africa that a South African man is being recognised as a Blessed Martyr of Christ,” Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the ceremony.
Benedict Daswa, a school principal in Limpopo Province, died after being ambushed by people opposed to his outspoken rejection of witchcraft and witch-hunts in 1990.
He died on the same day when then President FW de Klerk announced the unbanning of liberation movements and the release of Nelson Mandela, who later became South Africa’s first black president.
“His fearless ministry cost him his life, but has caused the Church – 25 years after his death – to accord him the status of being part of ‘the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us’, as it is described in the Letter to the Hebrews,” Ramaphosa said.
Speaking prior to the event on Saturday, President Jacob Zuma called the beatification “historic” and “significant” as such ceremonies “are extremely rare in the history of the Catholic Church”.
“The beatification service will restore the dignity of Mr Daswa and inspire people all over the world to do good at all times even under extremely difficult situations,” President Zuma said.
Daswa lost his life because he believed in human rights and dignity and did not support the persecution of fellow villagers on allegations of witchcraft.
Many people, especially elderly women, have lost their lives due to accusations of witchcraft in some communities.
“Such practices have no place in our country and we are happy that this is not widespread,” President Zuma said.
“May this ceremony remind all of the need to unite in fighting this dangerous practice of stigmatising and condemning innocent people, especially women, due to gossip and innuendo,” President Zuma said.
The Catholic Church describes Daswa as a man who led a holy life, a diligent worker, a good family man, an industrious educator, an active layman, an avid sportsman, an involved community leader, and a man of charity. – Xinhua.