South Africa will be celebrating a hero of conscience on Sunday – Benedict Daswa, a Catholic school teacher who was murdered in 1990 for opposing witchcraft. A delegate from Pope Francis will beatify him as a martyr in Limpopo, the northeasternmost province.

The video above relates his life and describes his impact on his local community.

Daswa, a Catholic convert, was born in 1946. He and his wife Eveline had eight children. He was respected for his community spirit, his hard work and his piety. In 1977 he became principal of a local primary school.

However, he made enemies for opposing traditional witchcraft. In 1976, his local soccer team was on the skids and some of his team mates wanted to consult a sorcerer. Daswa resigned and started his own team. 

In late 1989, the local district was hit by heavy rain and lightning. When the storms returned in January 1990, the elders demanded that everyone contribute five Rand to pay for a traditional healer who would identify the witch who had brought the storms.  

Daswa spurned this as a superstition. He said that storms were just a natural phenomenon and that he would refuse to pay for a witchdoctor. 

On February 2 a mob ambushed him while driving home. He sprinted for safety in a nearby house but he was caught. One of the crowd brained him with a knobkerrie (war club) and boiling water was poured over his head to ensure that he was dead. Before dying Daswa said, “God, into Your hands receive my spirit”. Several people were arrested but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Benedict Daswa’s life and death pose some fascinating questions.

For starters, why isn’t Richard Dawkins presiding at the beatification? Couldn’t Daswa be described as a martyr for the Enlightenment, for science? After all, in the last 500 years, the closest thing to a martyr for English science was Sir Francis Bacon, who died of a bad cold after stuffing an eviscerated goose with snow. Not even Galileo gave up his life to dispel the darkness of superstition. It took a poorly-educated schoolteacher in a remote and dusty town in South Africa to pay the ultimate price as a witness to natural causality. Professor Dawkins ought to be bursting with pride.  

Or was he a martyr for his Christian faith? Of course he was, which is why the good Prof wouldn’t dream of attending Sunday’s festivities.

That’s a mistake. Benedict Daswa’s death is a dramatic demonstration that Christian faith and science do not conflict at all, but support each other. In fact, Christianity endorses the notion of an ordered, intelligible universe governed by its own rules. As John Paul II put it in a poetic epigram, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” 

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet