Forty years ago, a legend of the Second Chimurenga, Cde Tendai Pfepferere, died at St Augustine’s Mission Penhalonga, kwaTsambe, in Manicaland Province.
St Augustine’s Mission occupies a special place in the history of the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe.
This is the school where the late ZANU Chairman, Advocate Herbert Chitepo, received his education.
St Augustine’s Mission’s geographical location was favourable for the movement of ZANLA forces who came to the front from Mozambique and recruits who went to Mozambique for military training.
The valley between the school clinic and villages of Muchena created a good passage for guerilla movement.
The valley was also a clinic for injured combatants who would be assisted by Anglican sisters in transit to receive medical attention in Mozambique.
On August 5 1979, Cde Pfepferere, Tangwena’s sectorial commander, which was in Bonda detachment under ZANLA’s Manica war province, singly engaged the desperate Rhodesian forces, saving many students from the rabid Rhodies at the mission school.
According to an eyewitness Cde Chakanyuka Dondo, Cde Pfepferere came to Bonda detachment in 1977 and operated together with Cdes Bvumazvipere, Hidden, Moses Mudyiwa, Njuma Yaruza and Mudyiwa B.B, among many others.
Cde Chakanyuka said Cde Pfepferere decided to address students in the school’s hall to conscientise them about the liberation war.
“I vividly remember a Friday afternoon when Cde Pfepferere suggested that we address students at the school,” said Cde Chakanyuka.
“During that time, students from Manicaland were going in great numbers to Mozambique for military training to join the liberation struggle. All ZANLA military training bases were overwhelmed by students who were eager for military training.
“We had learnt that some students from St Augustine Mission’s planned to run away from school, hence Cde Pfepferere’s suggestion to address them.
“He wanted to calm them down because the war was reaching its end with ZANLA forces already having gained the upper hand.”
According to Cde Chakanyuka, they left their base which was by Tsambe River at around 8pm in the company of Cdes Mudzimu, Zvipere and Chacks.
Cde Pfepferere was the commander.
“The commander told us not to return fire if we were ever going to be attacked while at the school, as this would put the lives of students in great danger. He told us that it was better for us to die than the civilians because they were the ones we were fighting to liberate,” said Cde Chakanyuka.
The other freedom fighters took security positions close to the school’s Great Hall while Cde Pfepferere went into the Hall to address the students.
“Students were addressed while watching a film. After about 30 minutes, we saw lights of a convoy of Rhodesian military trucks approaching the school,” said Cde Chakanyuka.
“I thought of firing but in the military we work with orders and our order was not to fire under any circumstance, as long as we were in the school yard.”
Cde Chakanyuka said he panicked when a student shouted ‘masoja’ from the Great Hall and nearly disobeyed the order not to open fire when he saw the Rhodesian soldiers taking positions around the Great Hall.
Another eyewitness, a librarian at the school, Cleopas Munemero, said Cde Pfepferere managed to calm the students when the soldiers approached the school.
“A student who was close to the door of the Great Hall shouted when he saw the truck coming. Cde Pfepferere then told us to be quiet, giving instructions to evacuate students through back windows, starting with Form Ones. When Rhodesians were spoiling for a fight they would kill indiscriminately; there would be no commission of inquiry for killing black children,” said Munemero.
“We successfully got out all the students and members of staff with the help of Cde Pfepferere. Cde Pfepferere was the last one to leave and he was spotted because he was carrying his gun. They started firing at him and there were screams all over the school from the panicking students.
“Although he had the chance to return fire, Cde Pfepferere did not in order to save us.”
Munemero said all the students escaped to Muchena Village where they spent the night.
Cde Chakanyuka said he saw his commander hit by Rhodesian bullets and there was nothing they could do for him.
“I am still haunted by the death of Cde Pfepferere. He was shot while we watched and there was nothing we could do because he had ordered us not to open fire in the schoolyard,” said Cde Chakanyuka.
The Rhodies, said Munemero, displayed the corpse of Cde Pfepferere for several days, forcing villagers to watch his rotting corpse so as to discourage villagers from supporting the freedom fighters.
He said it was only after revered Anglican Priest, Father Richard Hugh Keble Prosser, intervened that Rhodesians released the body for burial.
The Rhodies agreed and Father Prosser bought a coffin and organised a funeral for Cde Pfepferere.
A statue was erected at the school in honour of the fallen hero.
Cde Pfepferere was a martyr to the cause of freedom.
“Everyone at this school knows about the story of Cde Tendai Pfepferere and it helps our students appreciate the liberation war,” said Munemero.