A three-year prison sentence meted out to Brandin Pillay, 22, suspended for five years, would send a clear message to other bullies that they would eventually pay for their actions, education authorities said.
Pillay’s co-accused Kyle John, also 22, was sentenced to a fine of R1000 (or three months' imprisonment), suspended for five years.
The sentences formed part of a plea bargain accepted by the State in the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
It drew to a close a four-year quest for justice by the complainant, their former Marklands Secondary School classmate, Zhane Abubakr.
In 2013, the then 17-year-old Grade 11 pupil’s world fell apart when he was seriously injured while being taunted, assaulted and bullied at school.
Using a popular wrestling manoeuvre, the "tombstone piledriver", Pillay turned Abubakr upside down, dropping him on his head on a concrete floor.
The incident left Abubakr, now also 22, with three broken vertebrae, and he missed school while he recovered in hospital and then at home.
He was forced to eventually drop out of school and told POST he would only be enrolling for matric next year.
John was charged with one count of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm by grabbing, slapping and punching Abubakr.
Pillay faced three counts of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, which included his wrestling manoeuvre.
Speaking to POST on Monday, Abubakr said he had refused an out-of-court settlement of R50000 by his tormentors in their bid to avoid jail time, as the money meant nothing to him.
“It isn’t going to cover my medical expenses and I will suffer for the rest of my life for this,” he said. “With this sentence it’s better, as they have criminal records to their names.”
However, he had hoped for a tougher sentence, he said.
“It is not fair, because it shows others that the law will give them a slap on the wrist and set them free. Others can then go out and do the exact same thing to someone else and ask for the same outcome.”
Abubakr has since moved to Johannesburg, but he used to live with his grandfather in Shallcross, just two roads from the school.
“Every time, without fail, I would look at the school when I passed by, even if I was occupied or trying not to (look),” he said. “I looked at it and it irritated me even more and brought back the memories of the months of treatment and hospital stays I had to endure.”
His grandfather, Bobby Moodley, said although Pillay and John were free to build their lives, his grandson was still suffering.
“He is having to go for doctors check-ups and will have all kinds of operations. He still has to suffer for their wrongdoing, while they are all happy and living nicely.”
Abubakr said he had been suffering from headaches and back pain since the assault.
“The doctor said it’s a given that I will have these pains every day. I think it’s more learning how to cope and live with the pain rather than letting it get the better of me.”
Neither Pillay nor John wished to comment but their lawyer, advocate Jay Naidoo, described the incident as “unfortunate”.
“It’s not a bullying incident, I would think it is a school fight that was taken too far and it is extremely unfortunate for all three boys,” he told POST.
“Going forward, I think schools need to clamp down and keep an eye on their pupils to defuse these types of incidents.”
Abubakr said it was “very easy to become a bully”, adding: “No one should have to face or go through what we have had to. Bullying destroys a family, not just the individual.
"Yes it may be cool, but these guys need to think about their actions and it needs to stop.
"Look at me, they probably thought it was all fun until they realised how seriously hurt I was.”
Vee Gani, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Parents Association, said bullying would not stop unless “drastic action” was taken by not only schools, but also the parents.
“There is only one way to eradicate bullying - we need to (pick) out the mischievous learners and discipline them,” he said.
“We cannot blame bullying on things that are being shown on television; everybody watches TV, but not everyone does the things they see,” he said. “Society cannot blame TV for their kids’ actions. Parents need to discipline their kids and show them the right path.”
Gani added that an assault like Abubakr’s could have been avoided had his school implemented its code of conduct properly.
“A lot of the private schools do not have bullying incidents because the learners there are afraid that the moment they step out of line they could face a disciplinary hearing. If our (public) schools adhered to their codes of conduct, it would be a deterrent.”
Marklands Secondary School principal M Jhetham said he had only recently been appointed, but he gave the assurance that his school had put in place policies to deal with bullies.
“We do not condone any form of violence or bullying in or outside the school. We understand that parents send their kids to school and expect them to be safe and we always encourage our kids to resolve their issues amicably and through the proper channels,” he said. “Our aim is to educate our kids and instil good values.”
The KZN Department of Education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa warned that anyone who transgressed school policies could face serious disciplinary action.
Mthethwa urged parents to instil morals and discipline in their children from a young age.
Independent child rights specialist Linda Naidoo told POST that school bullying was a serious problem, with serious consequences. “There are certain places where bullying occurs the most, and these are often where adults are not present - in places like corridors, toilets and playgrounds.
"Statistics show that 47.2% of bullying occurs in a passageway and 33.6% of bullying happens in the classroom, while 20% of bullying situations occur on school grounds, when pupils are walking to and from school,” Naidoo pointed out.
“Children cannot get away from it, and this has resulted in suicides. Bullying is a community issue and requires a community solution. Bullying is a problem that can derail a child’s schooling, social life, and emotional well-being,” she cautioned.