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The saint who refused to take part in a witch hunt

12 March 2012

Yesterday’s Sunday Times (Johannesburg) carried a very interesting article headed SA to get its first Catholic saint.

It tells of Benedict Daswa, a Roman Catholic layman, who was murdered for his refusal to take part in a witch hunt in 1990.

Daswa, who was 48 at the time of his slaying. lived in the tiny Mbahe village near Thohoyandou some 150 km north of Polokwane. He died after steadfastly refusing to accept the existence of witchcraft in his village.

He was killed in February 1990 by an angry mob of villagers for refusing to participate in hiring a witchdoctor to sniff out those they believed were responsible for lightning stikes that were rife in the area. Daswa was beaten with sticks and stones and had boiling water poured over him. He apparently said a prayer before being dealt the fatal blow (Sunday Times, March 11, 2012, p. 7).

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tzaneen has compiled a report and sent it to the Congregation of Causes of Saints.

According to the Sunday Times report Daswa’s brother said that in late 1989 there was a community meeting at which most of the villagers agreed that each household would contribute towards hiring a witchdoctor to point out who was responsible for the lightning strikes. But Daswa, his brother and a cousin refused to participate.

His brother told villagers that his faith did not allow him tom take part in anything associated with witchcraft.

“I was at that meeting myself. We asked to be excused as we were not prepared to take part.”

He said that, after the meeting, some villagers started plotting to “deal” with Daswa.

At the meeting Daswa argued that lightning is a natural phenomenon and argued against following the old ways of blaming witches for causing it. On 2 February 1990 while driving home in the evening he found his way blocked with tree logs across the road. When he stopped the car and tried to remove them a group of youths and adults emerged from behind the trees and began pelting him with stones. He escaped on foot and ran to a rondavel to hide. He was, however, found by the mob, and when he realised that he was about to be killed he asked to say a prayer. He said “God, into your hands receive my soul” before he was dealt a fatal blow with a knobkerrie that crushed his skull. Boiling water was then poured over his head. His killers were never convicted. The matter was dismissed because of lack of evidence.

Benedict Daswa thus died in the same manner as many of those who are accused of practising witchcraft.

Im 1995 I wrote in an article Christian Responses to Witchcraft and Sorcery:

Over 200 people who were accused of being witches were burnt to death in South Africa between the beginning of 1994 and mid-1995. These killings were not legal executions, but took place at the hands of lynch mobs, mostly from the communities in which the accused lived. Such witch hunts are rare. As recently as 1987 one South African scholar described them as “an extreme and remote possibility” and noted that though there had been periodic episodes of anti-witch purges in Central Africa, they were restricted to “identifying sorcerers, destroying their paraphernalia, putting them out of business and at worst exiling them” (Kiernan 1987:6). The situation, especially in the Northern Province, has become so serious that official investigations are being made into how to deal with it.

Many more people have died since then and the problem of witch hunts is widespread in Africa (see, for example Inmates of witches camp appeal for help – When I wrote the article most Christian groups were opposed to the idea of witchcraft and witch hunts, but now it seems that in some places some Neopentecostal denominations even initiate witch hunts.

The witness of someone like Benedict Daswa, who refused to participate in a witch hunt, is thus tremendously important for Christianity in Africa as a whole, and goes far beyond Limpopo Province. You can read more about him at Who was Benedict Daswa?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 March 2012 1:58 pm

    Press Release: ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ 2012

    In preparation for this year’s ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ (29 March to 27 April) .

    Kindly note that in March 2011 the South African ‘Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ publicly announced its support for this campaign.

    Should you require further information please contact me.


    These are the names of reported victims of witch-hunts in South Africa between January 2010 and March 2012.


    February 02 2012
    KwaZulu-Natal – Premier Zweli Mkhize condemned the killing of people suspected of practising witchcraft. “We call on our people never to use suspicion of witchcraft as an excuse to commit murder.”

    January 2012
    KwaZulu-Natal – Masisi Mhlongo (50), Fanelesibonge Ntuli (6) and Amahle Nxumalo (5 years old), were burnt to death inside their home in Maphumulo, near Stanger, after Masis Mhlongo was accused of being a witch.

    January 2012
    KwaZulu-Natal – Elsa Dubazane (62) was burnt to death in her home in Lindelani. Her husband Rafael Zikhulu, who managed to escape the burning shack, was “necklaced” a few metres away. The couple had been accused by residents of witchcraft. Eleven suspects have been arrested.

    January 27 2012
    Limpopo – The community of Roadhouse in Malamulele booed Civic Association chairman Thomas Bila after he refused to expel an unnamed Mozambican woman they accused of witchcraft from the area. “If the civic is not telling us that the witches are going, they must go,” a villager said. The witchcraft accusations follows claims that a woman took some soil from a graveyard on the day a woman who was her neighbour was buried. Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alson Mapindani confirmed the situation at Roadhouse and said police were monitoring it.


    March 23 2011
    Limpopo – Police warn that “recently empowered rural people are increasingly being accused of witchcraft by jealous neighbours, sometimes with grave consequences”.

    March 22 2011
    Limpopo – Cynthia Lemaho (26) and her grandmother Mupala Motopela (81) were stoned and then set alight by a mob in Maake village outside Tzaneen after being accused of witchcraft. Lemaho’s two-year-old toddler and 12-year-old child managed to escape unharmed.

    March 14 2011
    Limpopo – The Tzaneen municipality is trying to locate two families who fled from their temporary shelter after being accused of practising witchcraft.

    February 01 2011
    Mpumalanga – An unnamed woman (aged 62) was dragged from her home and beaten but escaped being burned to death when her home was set alight by a mob. Twelve people were arrested.


    December 27 2010
    Limpopo ‐ Matome Albert Shai (64) was accused of practising witchcraft and stoned to death.

    December 2010
    KwaZulu-Natal ‐ Coshele Mabhida (45), Angelina Mabhida (58), Sindi Mabhida (25), Njabulo Mabhida (9), Siphesihle Mabhida (7), Olwami Mabhida (6), and Andiswa Mabhida (9 months old), and relative Nelisiwe Khumalo (16), were burnt to death. They were accused of witchcraft.

    December 2010
    Kwazulu-Natal ‐ Tholakele Shoba (54), a trainee traditional healer and her husband Shezi Shoba (60), were killed in Snathing near Edendale after they were accused by another traditional healer of having abducted a 7 year old boy to use for witchcraft.

    October 2010
    Eastern Cape – A 20 year old man murdered his unnamed parents, aged 75 and 80, and wounded two others, a 38 year old sister and a 60 year old woman, identified as the family’s neighbor with a spear in Mooiplaas over accusations of witchcraft. Names of the victims were not released by the media.

    September 2010
    Eastern Cape ‐ An unidentified 54 year old woman and her 3 year old granddaughter were wounded by gunmen seeking revenge for a killing they believe was caused by witchcraft. They shot the woman twice, in the shoulder and leg and the teenager once in the leg.

    August 22 2010
    Eastern Cape ‐ Masilengenge Bambusiba (85), her grandsons Lwazi (17), Lwando (10), and Vela Nogemane (9), and granddaughter Ezile Nogemane (aged 5), were found dead at their home in Sigubudu village in Ngqeleni. Ten men attacked the family believing the woman was going to bewitch youths in the village.

    March 02 2010
    Western Cape ‐ Yalezwa Phulwana (22), and her 2 year old daughter Liyema died in hospital from burns after their home was set alight. Yalezwa’s mother, Nonjengezinye Matwa, was also severely burned and had to be hospitalised. She was accused of being a witch by a traditional healer.

    March 01 2010
    Limpopo ‐ An elderly Limpopo woman (not named) accused of witchcraft had her house burnt down in Magaung village at Sekororo, Maake.

    February 2010
    Kwazulu-Natal ‐ Mbongeni Zungu (68) died after community members attacked him and burnt down his shack in Umlazi E section. They accused him of practising witchcraft.

    February 03 2010
    Eastern Cape ‐ Nokitani Tshemesi (65) and her three grandchildren, Phumeza Ntakani (13), Nonkoliseko Malolo and Akhona Malolo (both aged 10), were found stabbed to death in their home in Kwaaiman, Eastern Cape. They were accused of witchcraft.

    January 13 2010
    Kwazulu-Natal ‐ Badabukile Ndlovu (81) was stabbed 50 times and her throat slit by her neighbour who accused her of witchcraft in KwaKwiliza near Mtubatuba.

    January 04 2010
    Eastern Cape ‐ Mamakazi Mkhwanazi and her granddaughter Thobile Mbatha were burnt beyond recognition in Gunjaneni after being accused of practising witchcraft.

    Please, help us bring an end to accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts. Support this advocacy campaign and make a difference.

    30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts – 29 March to 27 April

    Find us on Facebook

  2. Kiming permalink
    25 September 2013 10:47 pm

    This is very sad .;( stories that make me to difficult to sleep,my their soul rest in peace

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