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Mob violence victim promoted as S. African saint


The Associated Press

NWELI, South Africa -- 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.

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 could come surging back.

In 1990, 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 in 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. 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.

In Assumption of Our Lady, Nweli's tiny church with log rafters crisscrossed like fingers laced in prayer, about 40 worshippers recently celebrated Corpus Christi, reading from Psalms in Venda, the region's main language: "O precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful servant."

Chris Maphaphuli, who was inspired by Daswa to become a teacher and counted him as a friend, said reopening the investigation of the killing would accomplish nothing. "As Jesus was forgiving, so we must also forgive," he said.

Daswa, born Tshimangadzo, took the name Benedict in becoming Catholic. He founded a soccer team. He started a vegetable garden to grow food for families and sell produce to pay for school fees and uniforms, at a time when the apartheid government did little for the nonwhite needy. To be canonized, the Vatican would have to be satisfied Daswa had performed a miracle -- intervened from heaven on behalf of someone on earth.

"Providence takes over," Bishop Joao Rodrigues said. "We can just pray."

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