Mystery of red lunchbox that triggered near-tragic events Matoranhembe Primary School in Zvimba where eight learners fell after eating food brought by one of them

Walter Nyamukondiwa 

Mashonaland West Bureau Chief 

It was a known clique of eight girls at the school, with an unwritten “in commune of lunchboxes” agreement to be shared during break time. 

On this fateful day, Friday June 7, a ninth person managed to break into the seemingly impenetrable bond of friendship. 

That was to trigger a series of events, questions and invoke the ultimate charge. 

Attempted murder! 

Shocking events at Matoranhembe Primary School in Zvimba reverberated beyond the school yard to leave an attempted murder charge hanging over Mrs Paidamoyo Makayi. 

Mrs Makayi is the mother of the 11-year-old girl who brought the lunchbox to school. 

She allegedly packed two lunchboxes, with mystery still surrounding the reasons for giving the girl two lunchboxes. 

The girl reportedly said the other lunchbox was prepared for her brother learning at the school, who however, failed to attend school owing to the cold weather on the day. 

A shared lunchbox, vomiting, stomach pains and the resultant hospitalisation of eight Grade 4 learners at the primary school, left a trail that ended at Mrs Makayi’s doorstep. 

She has since been arrested on eight counts of attempted murder and appeared before a Chinhoyi Regional Magistrate who remanded her in custody to June 17.

An order was given for her to undergo mental examination under the Mental Health Act by the time she returns to court. 

Pieces to the puzzle on the poisoning of the eight Matoranhembe Primary School learners after sharing a lunchbox brought by a school mate are still scattered.

The Herald visited the school through the district education office for authorisation. 

On the fateful day, the girls congregated under the big Msasa tree, about 20 metres outside the school gate as they normally do. 

Another girl asked to join the group and get a share of the arrayed food in exchange for a mossel each from her own lunchbox. 

The girl is not from the same class as the other eight. 

She is in the school’s special class. 

There were two lunchboxes, a red one and an empty margarine container, both with rice and tomato soup. 

They agreed and she gave them the red lunchbox. 

Within a few minutes of giving them her food and a blackberry flavoured drink, seven of the girls started writhing in pain. 

So bitter, reportedly, was the drink that it was only one sip and immediately the girls spit it out. 

The developments brought pandemonium to the school as everyone panicked. 

A crowd gathered around the girls, drawing the attention of school authorities. 

The health teacher attended to the girls while the headgirl ran to alert the school head. 

Interim head, Mr Phillip Makuvaza, was at the school grounds with members of the School Development Committee (SDC). 

Interim head, Mr Phillip Makuvaza

“The headgirl approached me saying there is a case of suspected poisoning at the school and that I should hurry to the administration block,” said Mr Makuvaza. 

“Soon afterwards, the head boy came running again saying there was an emergency.” 

From a distance, he saw hoardes of learners running along the road leading to the school. 

They were running after the girl who had brought the lunchbox. 

After seeing her school mates develop problems after eating her food, she ran off, with about a third of the school’s 480 learners in hot pursuit. 

Others had gathered outside the administration block. 

At this stage the girls were just writhing in pain. 

Only one of the girls had vomitted and during the melee, one of the learners started bleeding from the nose, causing further confusion. 

Meanwhile, the girl out-ran everybody and sought refuge at the nearby Matoranhembe High School as the pursuing learners bayed for her blood. 

The teachers at the high school advised the agitated learners to return to their school. 

The headmaster arrived and decided to take the girls to Murombedzi Hospital. 

“They were attended to and declared stable before being allowed to go home,” said Mr Makuvaza. 

However, the condition of some of them deteriorated and they had to be taken back to the hospital while others were taken to Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital. 

Samples of the empty lunchboxes were collected for forensic tests, which will determine whether the food was laced with poison and it’s nature or it was normal food poisoning related to poor handling and bacteria contamination. 

The girl who brought the food allegedly told one of the girls that she wanted her to die of poisoning like her father. 

Ironically, the girl’s father died of suspected poisoning or suicide through poisoning after an altercation with the father of the bearer of the lunchbox. 

“The father of one of the affected girls died of suspected poisoning or suicide,” said a villager in the area. 

“Apparently the mother (Mrs Makayi) had a relationship with one of the affected child’s father. So essentially, the two girls are sisters, sharing the same mother, but different fathers.”

The statement by the girl prompted further digging, which established that indeed, the affected girl’s father died of suspected poisoning or suicide by poisoning after fighting with the father of the girl who brought the lunchbox. 

Parents who spoke to The Herald said they were yet to come to terms with what happened. 

“I am still trying to understand why my child was exposed to such pain and prospects of death because of poisoning,” said a parent. 

“The children endured a lot of pain and they are still troubled psychologically to this day. We thank God however, that they are all alive.”

Others called for thorough investigations adding that the woman should face justice. 

Matoranhembe Primary School was established in 1963, with some villagers saying its history dates back to the 1930s.

It carries the name of a river that flows about 50 metres in front of the school gate. 

So ferocious was its rage in full flow that attempting to cross could have one’s animal skin kilt (nhembe) swept off the body, hence the name Matoranhembe. 

Loosely translated it is a river that takes away the animal skin apron covering the essentials.

A week has passed and seven of the girls have since returned to school. The other girl had not returned to school by yesterday, but she is in stable condition.

It was a near tragic event that could have robbed eight families of their promising children in one sweep. 

Science carries the key to determining what could have triggered vomiting and stomach ache for all who ate contents of the red lunchbox. 

Was it food laced with poison or food that became poison? 

That is the question that may be answered with time.

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