FORMER colleagues of a 60-year-old man who was arrested in Macheke on allegations of kidnapping 25 pupils at David Livingstone Primary School in Harare on Thursday afternoon, have said they worked well and normally as drivers with the suspect for eight years and his strange behaviour this week was inexplicable.
Some said they suspected the bizarre incident could be attributable to the sudden onset of mental illness as he had previously not exhibited any abnormal traits.
Samuel Honde was arrested after the Nissan Caravan he was driving with the 25 children on board had run out of fuel at the 103km peg along Harare-Mutare Road.
A passer-by who saw the children crying in the minibus informed police, leading to the arrest of the suspect.
The children have since been reunited with their parents.
In a statement, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the incident.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police confirms the arrest of Samuel Honde aged 60 at the 103km peg along Harare-Mutare Road, Macheke, for kidnapping 25 learners from David Livingstone Primary School on 18th January 2024.
“The arrest follows a tip-off received by ZRP Macheke from a passer-by that there was a Nissan Caravan kombi, registration number AFN 0198, with children on board parked by the roadside. The informant suspected foul play as some of the children were crying,” he said.
Asst Comm Nyathi said investigations by the police established that the suspect had parked the vehicle after it had run out of fuel.
“It was established that the suspect was contracted by various parents, since 2016, to ferry learners to and from David Livingstone Primary School to their homes in Greater Harare.
“On January 18, 2024 at around 1300 hours, the suspect picked 25 learners —14 girls and 11 boys — from the school and drove towards Macheke instead of driving the learners to their respective homes in Kuwadzana and surrounding areas.
“The learners have since been reunited with their parents after they were referred to Marondera Provincial Hospital for medical examinations,” he said.
Investigations are in progress to establish the motive behind the kidnapping.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police warns parents and guardians to ensure their representatives are present as children are picked to and from school by contracted transporters. The representatives will assist to monitor the movement of the hired transporters,” Asst Comm Nyathi said.
When The Herald visited the school yesterday, drivers were discussing the case, each with their own version of events.
“Instead of going to Kuwadzana, he took the Mutare Road, but did not have money for tollgate fees. He reportedly had a dispute with the Zinara guys after he failed to pay the toll fees,” said a driver who used to work with Honde.
“I am still wondering why he was allowed passage, given that he had questioned the tollgate team about why they were denying him passage to Kuwadzana.
“This should have alerted them to the fact that they were dealing with a potentially dangerous individual, especially considering that he was carrying minors.”
Another driver, who also declined to be identified said parents would never have expected that Honde would abduct the children as he had worked with them for many years and had always been trustworthy.
“We have been working with him as colleagues for over eight years and he had always safely transported the children to and from school without any issues,” he said.
“I believe he must have somehow lost his memory or experienced sudden mental illness. Maybe he was even drunk but we are not sure yet.
“We will wait to hear more from police when they complete their investigations because it’s difficult to understand what he was thinking at the time.”
A WhatsApp group chat for parents of children who learn at David Livingstone Primary School seen by this publication indicates that many parents only became aware of the incident at around 7pm.
“Let us pray for the children who were in Honde’s commuter omnibus. They are reported to be missing,” a concerned parent said, alerting others.
Few minutes later another parent broke the news that the Kombi had been found.
“The Kombi is said to have been found in Macheke but there is still no confirmation as to whether the children are still alive,” another parent wrote.
The parents were initially filled with anxiety but felt immense relief when they learnt that all of the children had been found safe and sound.
“All the children have been found safe, though the exact motive of the driver remains unclear. Some have suggested that he may have become mentally ill, but this has not been confirmed. We will await the doctor’s report, and if it proves that he is not mentally ill, he will go straight to jail,” another parent said.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Spokesperson Taungana Ndoro confirmed that they had received a report on the incident.
“Yes, we have received the report but on this issue, we refer you back to the Zimbabwe Republic Police,” he said.
Mr Ndoro however said the Ministry continued to urge parents to provide reliable transport for their children.
“We are urging parents to be careful when they provide transport in teams for their children. They should be very alert and do a lot of vetting of the people they hire to ferry their children to and from school.”