Mbilwi Secondary School. Picture credit: HyperText.
Mbilwi Secondary School. Picture credit: HyperText.

Report bullying and violence in and around schools, DBE urges

By MaryAnne Isaac Time of article published Apr 14, 2021

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Durban - The death of Grade 10 Limpopo pupil Lufuno Mavhunga after she was bullied by peers has brought the issue of bullying at schools to the forefront of the Department of Basic Education’s eyes.

This has now led to Deputy Minister Dr Reginah Mhaule appealing to all teachers and pupils to report all acts of bullying and violence in and around schools.

Mhaule said such cases should be reported to the SAPS and pupils who are victims of bullying should contact Childline to talk to someone and report incidents of bullying.

On Monday, a video of the 15-year-old Mbilwi Secondary School pupil being attacked by a fellow pupil while others watched and took videos, went viral and sparked fury among many.

The video shows Lufuno being confronted by a fellow pupil before they are interrupted by another pupil who slaps her several times. The defenceless pupil, does not fight back but tries to reason with the pupil instead. In the background, other pupils are heard mocking or cheering on the perpetrator.

A second video of the same incident shows the two pupils being separated by a male pupil, but not before the pupil landed some more slaps and pulled the 15-year-old’s hair.

According to Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo, the child arrived home from school and alleged that she was beaten up by the other pupil.

She thereafter allegedly locked herself up in the room and overdosed on pills.

Mojapelo said Lufuno’s mother found her unconscious in her bedroom and rushed her to the hospital where she died on arrival.

Registered counsellor, Cayley Jorgenson from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said bullying in all forms is a huge problem among South African school-going children, which directly impacts the mental health of all pupils involved (victim, bystander and bullies).

“Over the last couple of months, I have noticed an increase in suicide ideation, suicide attempts by both girls and boys as well as an increase in bullying cases among teenagers. Research shows that 23.6% of teens are struggling with feelings of hopelessness and sadness which begs the question – are we as a community doing enough to support teens?

“It is really important from a community perspective that teens are encouraged to reach out for support if they are struggling. In my experience, teens hold onto their thoughts and emotions as they don't want to burden their parents or teachers, and consequently their friends end up keeping these secrets out of fear of losing the friendship.

“We need to provide teens with a safe space to receive support and counselling as well as equip them with the knowledge and resources to get help and look after themselves. A spotlight needs to be put on bullying awareness programs and reporting systems need to be in place for teens to reach out without fear of judgement. We cannot focus solely on teenagers and children.

“Teachers need to be equipped with the knowledge of how to help teens and where they can access this help. Teachers need to be supported and have the knowledge to assist learners on mental health and the steps and procedures that needs to be followed with regards to bullying and suicide. It is my view that teachers are the first aid, when it comes to the mental health of learners and we therefore need to support the teachers who can create these safe spaces for learners to ask for help if they are struggling.”

Many South Africans took to Twitter to express their shock and sadness, and the hashtag #JusticeForLufuno has since been trending.

Some teachers took to Twitter as well, and are calling for corporal punishment to be reintroduced as teachers are powerless in these incidents and become victims themselves. While some believe the Department of Education has relinquished its responsibility as teachers are burdened with becoming social workers, police, doctors with a lousy salary, and others are saying that they are also victims of bullying having to teach a class of 40 pupils during a pandemic.

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