THE remains of former principal of St Augustine’s Mission, Father Keble Hugh Prosser, who died in the United Kingdom last November, are set to be repatriated for burial next month.
Known as a great missionary educationist, committed to the work of God, Fr Prosser will be buried on March 5 at Tsambe (St Augustine’s Mission), the school where he spent most of his working life.
Fr Prosser made history in Zimbabwe for his principled stance against racial segregation and discrimination. At the height of the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe he was often threatened with arrest by the much feared Rhodesian Special Branch for collaborating with Zanla freedom fighters operating in the area surrounding the mission.
He managed to keep the school open through the war and carried on after independence until he left for his native United Kingdom in 1990.
Below is an extract of a eulogy by former St Augustine’s student, Itai Calvin Mazaiwana.
Fr Hugh Prosser became principal of St Augustine’s in 1974 a year after his predecessor Fr Daniel Pearce had stepped down.
Fr Prosser and Fr Daniel Pearce were the youngest of the CR brethren at St Augustine’s. I had just enrolled as a student at St Augustine’s when Fr Prosser became principal and I have a vivid recollection of The Father Superior of the CR jetting in from Mirfield to conduct the official inaugural ceremony.
As students at St Augustine’s we often bragged to other schools that we had the most distinguished teachers. The fact that Fr Prosser was a graduate of Cambridge University and his predecessor Fr Pearce who came from California was a graduate of Stanford was often put to good effect to augment the argument.
Among the students at St Augustine’s Fr Prosser was often called November Prosser. This name came about because at the very beginning of each year he often reminded students to work hard for the exams because November was round the corner. Both the external and internal exams were sat in November. Fr Prosser was well known for his exceptional memory. He knew the names of every single student in the school. He often asked students in Form One for their first and last names once or twice and the details will be committed to memory until they finished A levels.
Fr Prosser was also famed for his roll calls which he conducted by two scans initially involving a head count followed by a detailed scan for missing faces. This would immediately be followed by an approach to the prefects to account for the missing faces.
He often displayed this incredible ability to relate to you as a teacher and not your principal in the classroom which often made life easier for the students.
During his tenure as principal at St Augustine’s Fr Prosser introduced the Cambridge exam special paper for a few select ‘A’ Level students wishing to enrol for university education at Cambridge University. This tradition acted as an inspiration for all of us the junior students. The civil war in Zimbabwe at this time was rapidly getting out of control. St Augustine’s was situated near the border with Mozambique, home to the bases of the ZANLA guerrillas waging a war against the Rhodesian forces. We started getting visitors from both sides of the conflict. Each side insisted on certain conditions being met if the school was to be spared. Dealing with either side often put one’s life in harm’s way as you could easily get killed by the opposition. Fr Prosser was often trapped in difficult positions where he had to play cat and mouse games with heavily armed men from either side. He was often threatened with arrest by the much feared Rhodesian Special Branch in Umtali (now Mutare). At one stage some teachers and students were rounded up by the Special Branch from Umtali facing serious charges of failing to report the presence of guerrillas.
They were facing court martial and mandatory death sentences were frequently imposed for such offences. Fr Prosser contacted my father in Salisbury for assistance. My Father was then a retired schools inspector and had had a long association with the staff at St Augustine’s having first visited the school as a schools’ inspector in the 60s. He assured Fr Prosser that he would revert with an update the following morning. At about 7am the following day my father rang up Fr Prosser and advised him to drive to Umtali to pick up his students and teachers from the police cells at the central police charge office.
He had negotiated with and convinced the then police commissioner to release the students and teachers without pressing charges. The war took a nasty turn at the beginning of 1979 and innocent people were dying in contacts between the Rhodesian forces and the guerrillas near the school. A very friendly commander of the Zanla forces known as Hidden advised me to leave the school as I would be a target of the more radical elements in his guerrilla movement since I was the son of somebody they classified as the opposition.
Reluctantly I made my way that evening to the priory and had a brief meeting with Fr Prosser. He expressed relief that I had taken that decision myself as it was a matter that bothered him. I kept on hearing stories of how Fr Prosser skilfully kept the school going under the most difficult circumstances. I was saddened to hear that there had been a killing of a guerrilla in full view of the students by elements of the Rhodesian army in the rotunda of the Great Hall which is where we used to watch movies and plays. The famous Great Hall had been transformed into a killing field.
Fr Prosser made history in Zimbabwe for his principled stand against racial segregation and discrimination. Together with the rest of the CR brethren, Fr Prosser will always be remembered by black Zimbabweans for the extremely high standard of education they introduced and maintained at St Augustine’s.
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