'Jatropha poisoning: School negligent'

BULAWAYO - School authorities should ensure a safe environment for pupils, as they may be answerable for negligence, former Education minister David Coltart has said. This follows an unfortunate incident last Friday where 59 Grade 4 pupils at Sigombe Primary School in Bulawayo’s Nkulumane suburb were hospitalised after eating poisonous Jatropha fruits.

Coltart said depending on the circumstances, the school’s authorities were liable for negligence. “I have not read much into the details of the incident but depending on the circumstances, the school authorities may be answerable for negligence. Jatropha is a plant that grows over a long time and it should have been noticed. A headmaster is responsible for ensuring that the children in his care are in a safe environment,” he said.

The pupils were rushed by ambulances to Mpilo Central Hospital last Friday after they had eaten the poisonous fruit.
According to reports, Mpilo Clinical director Solwayo Ngwenya said all the affected children had been treated over the weekend and were safe.

The doctor said Jatropha is a multi-purpose tree which can be used to produce soap, lubricants, bio-diesel and also helps in soil conservation. He said ingesting the seeds results in severe vomiting, loose stools and abdominal pain which can be fatal, which is the reason why the children had to be closely monitored to ascertain the level of poisoning.

Ngwenya also noted that institutions, especially those dealing with children, should not plant Jatropha as it is harmful and puts the young lives at risk. Education authorities in the Bulawayo Province indicated that this was the second incident involving the hospitalisation of pupils after eating Jatropha.  

A similar incident reportedly occurred at Manondwane Primary School in Bulawayo’s Nketa suburb a couple of years back and there was need for the parent ministry to engage schools to teach children about the harmful effects of some wild fruits.

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