The last prayer

Veronica Gwaze
“As a man, I was crushing at the sight of a handcuffed man but deep inside, the Priest in me was rejoicing for saving a man who could have died in sin,” said New Highfield Roman Catholic Parish Father Nhetekwa.

He said these words as he recounted how he baptised the notorious criminal, Stephen Chidhumo, a few days before he was hanged in 2002.

A villager from Zaka, Chidhumo was first sentenced to a jail term in 1991 after being convicted of car theft. Soon after release in 1995, he was back to his old ways and committed a series of robberies.

Chidhumo was arrested a month later and was jailed at Mutimurefu Prison in Masvingo province.

lt is here that he met Edgar Masendeke.

The inmates were not about to spend years in prison and therefore they hatched a plan for a grand escape.

Together with five other mates, they overpowered prison guards as they escaped from prison in a movie style.

Chidhumo and Masendeke then went on a robbery spree and even killed some of their victims.

They then fled the country and set base in Mozambique.

The duo was arrested again, with Chidhumo getting sentenced to 37 years in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Seven years were suspended.

He had been found guilty of 24 counts of robbery, murder and rape.

Under confinement at the Maximum Security Prison, he escaped again, setting a record for the only successful prison break. He fled to Mozambique again but luck ran out for Chidhumo 30 days later when he was re-arrested and sentenced to death.

In 2002, Chidhumo was then hanged at the age of 30. A few days before the hanging, Father Nhetekwa took the unenviable task of baptising the deathrow inmate.

“We (with Father Mukonori) went to visit Chidhumo at Parirenyatwa Hospital where he was under prison guard. He had a deep wound from gunshots,” he said.

“I was asked to baptise him and I was sad and happy at the same time because I knew God was glad that a soul had been saved.

“Fr Mukonori had a chat with Chidhumo. He confessed that he was a sinner and was ready to be baptised and receive Christ Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

“I asked Chidhumo if he understood that God loved him and he responded that he was aware that the Lord was waiting for him in Heaven.”

“I was filled with great joy because God was using me to save a soul at the very last minute.

“Chidhumo was a good candidate for baptism because after sinning, he deserved to repent. I believe when he was hanged, in God’s eyes, he was a holy person after repentance.”

“My consolation is that Chidhumo repented.

“As Catholics, we believe that someone’s last days are critical, especially if repentance is involved. It’s a necessary spiritual transaction.”

After the Chidhumo encounter, Father Nhetekwa baptised more inmates in several prisons.

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