Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oblates Attend Beautification Mass For First South African Martyr Benedict Daswa

By Fr. Zweli Mlotshwa OMI

Fr. Zweli is currently working in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, South Africa. He previously worked as a missionary to Zimbabwe.

My name is Tshimagadzo  Samual Daswa. I was given these names by an important man in my life, my father. Later in life when I met or rather encountered another important man I got a new name, Benedict, the name I chose when I got baptized in the Catholic Church. I was born in 1946 and died tragically in 1990. I am a man from a small village in South Africa. I am born of a small tribe and my people are the Lemba clan.

It seems as if my life began when I died or rather when I was bludgeoned to death by an angry, vengeful, faceless mob from my own village for refusing to participate and be associated with a witch-hunt. During an unusual spell of bad weather, elders in my village demanded each family contribute five South African Rand (less than one US dollar) to hire a sangoma (traditional healer) who would identify the witch in our midst. It seems the small things in life followed me: five South African Rand is really a small amount, not even enough to buy a loaf of bread. But that tiny amount which I refused to pay led to my death.

Fr. Mohohlo Patrick Maselwane OMI (left) with priests and parishioners from Soweto attending a beautification mass for martyr Benedict Daswa – South Africa (Photo courtesy of Fr. Mohohlo Patrick Maselwane OMI)
Why did this simple man from a small village and with little faith refuse to pay this insignificant amount? Well, that has to do with how I lived.  I did the ordinary things in life; I did my best to be a good father to my children and good husband to my wife. These are basic things, yet a challenge in our modern society where the concept of family is diminishing. Even in our small village we see the breakdown of families. Thus, something as innate as being a responsible father and husband has become challenging. I kept to ordinary things and did them well.

I trained and qualified as a teacher and yes, you guessed right. I was a teacher for the little ones. I taught at the primary school level shaping little minds to think big. The little ones followed me wherever I went. I was involved in community life and managed the local soccer team. Through sports I tried to instill order and discipline in the minds of young boys so they did not find themselves in serious matters bigger than them; like prison, alcohol, and becoming young unwed fathers.

Fr. Mohohlo Patrick Maselwane OMI (left) with parishioner from Soweto attending a beautification mass for martyr Benedict Daswa – South Africa (pictured in background) (Photo courtesy of Fr. Mohohlo Patrick Maselwane OMI)
The little things in life matter and they matter more when done with love and dedication. This was how I lived my life and through that I realized that people came to respect me and value my humble opinion. However, when I tried to persuade members of my village to preserve life and not engage in a witch-hunt, my opinion was dismissed. I so infuriated them that they killed me. Early in my life I had encountered Jesus and believed strongly that he, the Lord of life, calls us not to destroy life but to give and be life. Thus, in his name I refused to be part of the witch-hunt and tried to convince others to do the same, but it was not to be.

What do I say to those who say my death was in vain, that witch-hunts still continue, not only in my village but in countless other places within my country and across the African continent? I would say it is not just the issues we prevent but the issues we stand for. My life becomes an example to young African men that your children may not understand the sacrifices you make for them, but they will respect you for the strength you exude as a man with values.

Thus, it was on the overcast Sunday of 13 September 2015 that people from far and big cities like Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg came to the small village of Tshitanini, to witness an historic occasion whereby the Church, which welcomed me as a teenager, conducted a Beatification ceremony to designate me ‘Benedict; Blessed Servant’, a first for the Church in southern Africa.  I, the ordinary man from a little village with little faith became like a mustard seed that grew to be a big shrub, and many came to rest in my shade.

Fr. Zweli Mlotshwa OMI

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