Rebecca Munkombwe, a schoolgirl in Hwange town, 200 miles northwest of Bulawayo, rushed to a stream at the sound of screams.
Her friend, Latoya Muwani, nine, was struggling to stay afloat as the crocodile latched its jaws around her.
Rebecca jumped on to the creature and dug her fingers deep into its eyes, she told Bulwayo’s Sunday News.
The crocodile loosened its grip on Latoya and slipped away under the water, allowing Rebecca to drag her friend – who only suffered minor injuries – to the bank.
“We had just left the water when we heard Latoya, who was left alone swimming near the deep zone, screaming that something was biting her,” Rebecca said.
“I jumped on top of the crocodile and started beating it with my hands before using my fingers to poke its eyes until it released her. Once she was free, I swam with her to the bank where the other children pulled her out of the water.”
She feared the crocodile would return to attack as they clambered to safety, but it was not seen again.
Latoya was admitted to nearby St Patrick’s Hospital.
Fortune Muwani, Latoya’s father, described his daughter’s survival as “miraculous”, adding: “I was at work when I learnt that my daughter had been attacked by a crocodile while swimming.
“For a moment I thought of the worst before I learnt that she had survived after being saved by Rebecca. How she managed to do that I don’t know but am grateful to God. Latoya is recovering well here at St Patrick’s and we expect her to be discharged soon.”
Steve Chisose, a local councillor, said attacks were on the rise because problems with water supplies were driving more people to use unprotected, crocodile-infested streams.
“We have challenges accessing water which forces women and children to use unprotected sources such as these crocodile-infested streams. The women are usually accompanied by their children who get naughty and end up swimming,” he said.
He appealed to Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to remove crocodiles from local rivers. “They cause serious harm or death,” he added.