The incident took place at Ariel School in Ruwa, a town in Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe, almost 14 miles south-east of Harare, the country’s capital. Ariel School is a private school and was founded in 1991. According to its website, it started with “just four classes and 75 pupils in an old farm-house on the property. It now is a fully functioning school with classrooms, library, computer room, admin block, school hall and all the usual sporting facilities including a swimming pool and tennis court.”¹
Around 10 o’clock on the morning of September 16th, 1994, 62 Ariel School students between the ages of 5 and 12 years old reported that a flying object had landed on the school’s grounds. The teachers were in a meeting, so the children were essentially unsupervised during their morning break in the schoolyard. The only available adult was one of the students’ mothers, who was operating the school “tuck shop–a sort of snack bar where candy, snacks and soda are sold.”² The children said that they first saw three objects, which would “disappear and reappear in a different location.” The objects gradually approached the ground and eventually landed in a “brushy area” that was about 100 meters from the schoolyard and off-limits to the students. The children said that a small man, about one meter in height, appeared on top of the object and walked across the ground toward the students until he noticed them. Then, he “vanished and reappeared on top of the object,” which then took off and disappeared. The younger children were very frightened and called for help, because they believed the little man was a demon who would eat them. They ran to the tuck shop operator, Mrs. Alyson Kirkman, a physiotherapist that was volunteering at the school, but she did not want to leave the shop unattended and so did not go with them. According to an interview with documentary filmmaker Randall Nickerson, who is directing a documentary on the subject, “the children were not initially believed by the teachers or the headmaster, but after they had gone home to their parents and shared the story with their parents, the headmaster had them come back and draw what they saw. There were 60 drawings made.”³
A BBC reporter named Tim Leach was among the first on the scene to interview the children and teachers. According to the original footage, “a large, brightly colored object was seen traveling very fast above Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.”⁴ According to the report, “several planes” also saw it. When Leach asked one of the children what they saw on Friday, the child responded, “it looked like it was glinting in the trees. It looked like a disc, like a round…” Leach was skeptical, asking if it wasn’t a “Harrier Jump jet or something the Zimbabwe Air Force have got.” Another child said, “I saw something silver on the ground amongst the trees and a person in black.” One more reported that “they had big black eyes...that’s all I saw, I saw a glimpse and they kind of turned around and starred and then went back into a kind of ship.”
The headmaster of the school, Colin Mackie, said that he asked the children to draw pictures of what they saw and “after looking at those, I definitely feel like they did see something...I agree that it could be something that we’re not common with, but to actually say that it was UFO, I would be reluctant to make a decision like that.”
Leach also interviewed locals from the area, who reported sightings of their own. One woman said, “I saw a glow over my chicken run. A very orange glow.” In response to Leach’s suggestion that it could be a helicopter, she responded, “no, it was just a big round ball.” A man who experienced a sighting in Kariba said, “we suddenly looked up and we saw this thing coming over the top of the hill. As it came abreast of us it suddenly changed from this glow to two big red orange balls. First thought was an Airbus 300 with the two engines, but one thing we noticed about it was the lack of sound. In total, about 14 people saw this, in our group, anyway.”
“Mass Hysteria” Explanation
A research psychologist named Demobly Kokota wrote a paper in the Malawi Medical Journal about apparent instances of “mass hysteria” across Africa, noting the Ariel School encounter in one passage. He noted that “many dismissed the 1994 incident as mass hysteria affecting the children. But when the children were found not to have much prior knowledge to UFOs or popular UFO perceptions, many other people believed that what the children witnessed could have been real.”⁵ He also noted that the children had identical stories.
Cynthia Hind’s Report
Cynthia Hind was a journalist and ufologist that lived in the Ruwa area at the time of the incident and chronicled alien encounters all over Africa in a specialist journal named UFO Afrinews. When she heard about the incident, she came to the school premises to interview the children two days after the event and observed that “not only were their versions of the occurrence consistent but their drawings of what they saw were also in line.”⁶ She also compiled her own detailed report of the incident, which she published in the journal, and described the exact sequence of events as recounted by the students. According to the report, “they saw three or four objects coming into the rough bush area. The light from the objects was so bright, it was difficult to discern a shape, although several of the children saw disc-like objects coming in along the power lines and finally landing in the rough, among the trees...they could also hear a whirring noise and see a bright white, silverish light coming from the objects.”⁷ One student, named Guy. G (11), said to Hind, “I was excited at first but then I saw one of the smaller boys crying and when I asked him why, he said he was afraid. Then I also became afraid.” Hind detected the most consistency in the children’s descriptions of the actual “entity” that “emerged from the craft”: “he was approximately one metre [sic] tall, dressed in a shiny one-piece black suit similar to a wet suit. He had long black hair and a large head. One girl interviewed by the SATV, said he had arms and legs like a human being, but his head was larger than a normal head.”
In a later issue of UFO Afrinews, Hind noted that “some of the children actually saw a ‘cigar-like’ object on Thursday, September 15th, 1994, the day before the general sighting. One young boy said that as he was driving from school with his mother - in broad daylight - on the 15th September, they saw an object ahead of them.”⁸ She also noted similar sightings across the region that occurred earlier in the week: “Wednesday, September 14th, 1994, was an exciting night for Southern Africa. Right around 20:50 to 21:05 hours, a pyrotechnic display of some magnificence appeared in the almost clear night skies of this part of the continent.” Astronomers across the region soon reported that the “pyrotechnic display,” seen as far as Zambia and Botswana, had been a meteor shower. Hind, though, recorded receiving dozens of reports of a capsule-like fireball, trailing fire and flanked by two smaller capsules. “The general consensus of opinion was that the lights were preceded by a ball of fire which seemed to have a point to it, with a long tail of sparks. It was of a white or goldish colour and lit up brilliantly in the sky. Some people saw three huge lights at the front, with smaller lights behind.” Hind also received reports of a sighting at Lake Kariba, which is in northwest Zimbabwe and is the largest man-made lake in southern Africa. Rex Taylor of Kariba Yacht Safaris told her that the object “first seemed like a rocket, but in second I could see it was not. The fiery tail emitting sparks and a faint trail, was accompanied by a row of green lights and a second, smaller rocket.”
Hind wasn’t the only journalist to report contemporaneous sightings around Zimbabwe, however. According to a 2014 Sunday Mail article, Mrs. Debra Nicholson of Chawara in Kariba said that she saw a mysterious flying object hovering above her home around the same time, though she was unsure of the date.⁹ “It was very hot that night and as I was sitting on the lawn around 7pm I saw a round figure with plenty of lights hovering above our home. The object was definitely not an (airplane) since it was too round to be one. It silently flew over our home before it disappeared,” Mrs. Nicholson said. Another Kariba resident, Mr. David Nyamadzawo, said his daughter pointed out the vessel to him. “The object was moving slowly without producing any sound. It had the shape of a disc and was brightly colored. It might have been a spaceship or satellite transmission equipment. I do not know what that thing was.” Yet another Kariba resident, Mr. Steve Edwards, believes that the “ball of fire” he saw was simply a comet. “At first, I thought it was an aircraft that had been involved in a mid-air crash only to discover that it was a comet. I do not believe in aliens,” he said.
John E. Mack
John E. Mack was a child psychiatrist and Harvard professor who spent his career “examining how a sense of connection develops across cultures and between individuals, and how these connections alter people’s worldviews.”¹⁰ He won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of British officer T.E. Lawrence, A Prince of Our Disorder. He was also known for spending more than 10 years studying people who claimed to have experienced alien encounters. That interest is what led him to interview the students about their experiences two months after the incident.
One of the girls told him that she felt the eyes of the little man were “evil” and that he wanted to “come take us.”¹¹ Another girl named Lisa said that the creatures wanted them to be scared because “we don’t look after the planet properly” and that she felt “all horrible inside” when she got home. Reflecting on these interviews, Mack noted, “they describe these experiences or these events like a person talks about something that has happened to them. When you’re talking to a psychotic who’s telling you something that’s a delusion that you feel really didn’t happen, I can tell. I know that this is something that person wants me to believe or they’re frightened or they’re distorting reality in some way. There’s nothing like that here. These are people that are of sound mind, by and large, telling me something that they know I might think they’re crazy, and so they’re a little concerned about telling me, and they’re very full of questioning themselves and doubt and then they describe something very real and intense—a light or something happened to their body. The whole quality of the way they talk about it is the way a person talks about an experience that happened to them.”
After the twentieth anniversary of the incident in 2014, there has been a resurgence of interest in the case, leading to journalists and filmmakers tracking down the now-grown children and interviewing them about their recollection of the experience. While many refused to speak about it, some responded to questions on the condition of anonymity. “I can confirm that I witnessed both the landing and the departure of the strange object. However, I am not at liberty to recount events of of the day. I would not want my former school to be known for strange happenings,” one former student said to The Sunday Mail.¹² “The most difficult part is the fact that up until today, I cannot tell what that thing was. I do not believe in aliens or tokoloshis. It helps explain why some of us would not want to be associated with the events of the day,” another said.
In recent years, Randall Nickerson has interviewed students, teachers, and other witnesses about their experiences in order to gather footage for his documentary. He said, “these kids are highly intelligent, all of them...I just find it really difficult to believe that they would make it up because the consistency in the reports is riveting, that children that young can tell the same story from their own perspective that corroborates the other one. As adults, they still think of that day. Out of any day in their life, it’s fresh to them.” Though he did not name his specific sources, he noted that the former students described a communication of some kind between them and the being: “There was an intense connection between the kids in the playground and the being that approached them. They all said that time just stopped. They didn’t know how to explain how it was communicated. You and I would know that as telepathy, something that was transferred mind to mind. The message was about our own environment. Several of the witnesses, at least a half dozen, maybe more, because a lot of them in the present day feel a little nervous to share that. But the message was what we were doing to our planet and what our direction was with our own environment.”