Instead of being a victim, Lelo Mofokeng fought back and wrote a book about his experience of being bullied, writes Marchelle Abrahams.
Eight-year-old Lelo Mofokeng is intelligent and wise beyond his years. He exudes an astute assertiveness one wouldn’t associate with a primary school child. You can’t help but listen carefully to every word he says.
While other boys his age are climbing trees and playing superheroes, he’s putting pen to paper - literally. The Kempton Park, Grade 3 pupil has just published his first book.
Asked how it feels being an author and he replies with a giddy “it feels awesome!”
His mother, Lerato Rakgaba, must be having a proud mommy moment. She saw glimmers of her son’s gift when he started reading at 18 months.
“It started with drawings, and then naturally when he started writing properly with a pen, it went on to writing.”
Eight year old Lelo Mofokeng speaks to Polity about his book 'How I Survived Bullying'. FULL INTERVIEW: https://t.co/YImc2ZKTP0 Get a copy of his book by contacting his mom @leeyahra [email protected] 0828300121. pic.twitter.com/bBlfVp4gNY
The book titled How I survived Bullying is an account of Lelo’s experience of being bullied at school from Grade 0 to Grade 1. In it, he refers to the main protagonist as “Ken”.
Now that his book is common knowledge, surely his tormentor must know Lelo is referring to him?
He thinks for a moment, “Mmm I don’t know. Maybe he does,” he adds quickly.
He does admit, with great relief, that the bullying has stopped indefinitely.
“Bullying is a national epidemic and the harmful effects on a bullied child can last a lifetime,” says Cindy Glass, director and co-founder of Step Up Education Centres.
But it’s not just the victims. Parents are left feeling helpless and frustrated. Rakgaba says she first heard about the bullying two days after the first incident.
“When he and a friend told the teacher, she said it would be sorted out, so I mustn’t worry. But it wasn’t happening as an everyday thing. So when it happened again, I asked him if I should do something about it and he said no; the teachers are handling it.”
It’s evident that the wounds are still fresh for her and her family as Lelo relays that the bullying took on all sorts of forms, from being pushed and even punched in the stomach.
I ask Rakgaba about the school’s anti-bullying policy. The school handled it behind closed doors, but he was still dealing with the fear that it might happen again, she says.
She recalls an incident on the last day of school: “We went on holiday, and he kept on saying he wishes the holidays won’t end. And then two days before school reopened, he just didn’t want to go back.
“The first day back, I get a phone call from the teacher saying he’s crying under the table.”
Rakgaba said it eventually took its toll on her: “How do I fix this? He didn’t want to go to school.”
Things came to a head one day when she decided to confront her son’s bully.
“We went to a birthday party. I knew he’d be there. I asked the nanny if she’d mind if I talked to him.”
She calmly approached the boy, spoke to him in a non-confrontational manner and asked that he apologise to Lelo. “He apologised, and you could see the weight lift off my child.”
Importantly, Rakgaba says, is that at the end of the day the bully is still a child dealing with something we don’t know about. “He’s probably going through something. You can’t just go on the attack not knowing the reason behind it.”
Glass totally agrees that bullying is never okay. “There are no one-stop-shop solutions. We cannot ignore these destructive behaviours.”
Fortunately, Lelo’s story has a happy ending - and he got a book published out of it.
A book on bullying written by an 8-year-old boy - nobody could have written a better script. And, Rakgaba says, the response has been amazing. Parents from all backgrounds have been getting in touch with them, asking for advice and just wanting to talk.
I ask Lelo to come clean and say his mom helped him write the book. He laughs infectiously, saying “no”.
And then he hits me with another nugget of gold - it must have taken him two to four weeks to write.
His message comes through loud and clear: “I want other kids to know that they not the only ones that went through bullying. They are not alone.”
* To order a copy of the book at R150, contact Lerato Rakgaba at 0828300121 or e-mail [email protected]