Mob Violence Victim Could Be First S. African Saint
Everyone in this poor northern corner of South Africa has a story about Benedict Daswa’s kindness to his neighbors, his schoolteacher colleagues, the young villagers he helped to feed.
It’s therefore all the more horrifying that some of those same friends and neighbors were in the mob that beat him to death in a spasm of violence born of a flash of lightning and a witch hunt.
And even now, 22 years later, the pain and anger linger. A movement is under way to have the Vatican declare Daswa South Africa’s first saint, but it has stirred concerns that old grudges which should have faded in the new post-apartheid South Africa could come surging back.
1990 was a tumultuous year in South Africa. Apartheid was ending, and violent passions were being unleashed. Recriminations and superstitions were swirling. Witch hunts — the literal kind, still prevalent on African communities — were claiming the lives of men and women.
When lightning struck homes in Nweli, the elders suspected witchcraft and wanted to hire a witch-finder. Daswa, a primary school headmaster and devout Catholic, objected. A week later he was murdered.
No one has ever been prosecuted in the case, and witnesses have refrained from speaking up. The ringleader died in a car accident years ago. Some of those in the lynch mob still live here. Today the watchword in the village of Nweli is reconciliation, and the proponents of sainthood for Daswa are quick to stress that they are not looking to reopen the investigation or hold any individual accountable. [more]