THOHOYANDOU, South Africa: Some 30,000 people gathered in a small village in northern South Africa Sunday for a ceremony for the beatification of a school teacher who was bludgeoned to death for resisting witchcraft.
Benedict Daswa is the first person to undergo the key step toward sainthood in the southern African region.
Fellow villagers beat him to death 25 years ago after he refused to pay a sorcerer who promised to end destructive storms hammering the region.
First stoned by his assailants, Daswa ran to safety in a hut before being found by the mob and beaten to death with a stick.
His murderers then poured boiling water in his ears and nostrils to make sure he was dead – and all that happened on February 2, 1990 the day the apartheid regime announced it would release anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
Virtually unknown when he died, Daswa’s fame grew throughout South Africa’s Catholic community, with villagers starting to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
Around eight percent of South Africa’s population is Catholic.
In January, Pope Francis announced that the native of the northern province of Limpopo would be beatified.
Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will celebrate mass at the ceremony in Tshitanini village, not far from Daswa’s house.
Amato is representing the pontiff.
South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is also attending the ceremony, which comes after a night vigil staged by hundreds.
Traditional performers from the local Venda people dressed in colourful striped outfits sang and danced ahead of the mass.
“It is a unique moment, I feel overwhelmed,” said Tsholanang Koketso, 23, who travelled from the Limpopo provincial capital Polokwane to attend the mass.
“We always hear about saints in other countries but now we (will) have one in South Africa. It’s very nice.”
Father John Finn, who buried Daswa, described him as “a man of incredible generosity.”
“He was always bringing people to hospitals, taking care of children and elders. He had a great value for education.”
The beatification comes less than three months ahead of Pope Francis’s first visit to Africa in a push to connect with the burgeoning Catholic population across the continent.