Phola Mitigates Against School Bullying and Gender-Based Violence

Following the tragic death of Lufuno Mavhunga on 12 April 2021, a 15-year-old female learner in Limpopo, South Africans across the political and social spectrum have expressed their shock and anguish around the circumstances that led a young girl to commit suicide. She was aggressively assaulted by another learner at school. The video showing humiliating attack was widely circulated on various social media platforms. Sadly, Lufuno, subsequently died because of suicide.

During the bullying incident, bystanders watched, cheered, laughed, and recorded videos of the incident. The alleged perpetrator has been arrested by the police and charged with assault. School bullying, like bullying outside the school context, refers to one or more perpetrators who have greater physical or social power than their victim and act aggressively toward their victim by verbal or physical means. From bullying to deaths, school bullying has become an epidemic.

Image showing example bullying in schools

Recently President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the crisis of violence against women and children is a great shame on the nation and goes against African values and everything the country stands for. The DBE recently launched a Ministerial Advocacy and Mobilization Campaign to end school-related Gender-Based Violence (GBV) after President Cyril Ramaphosa made a call for all sectors of government to take active steps to address the current scourge that is eroding the fabric of South African.

The campaign is taking place under the over-arching them: Ending Gender-Based Violence starts with me: I prevent gender violence; I report gender violence.

The sub-theme: How violence makes me feel, examines the types of violence that occur to learners and teachers such as name-calling, teasing, bribing, bullying, gossip, sexual harassment, cyberbullying, hitting, exclusion, kicking, spitting.

The sub-theme also flags the way the behaviour affects a person on a psychological level to experience feelings such as hurt, worthless, angry, ashamed, fearful, suicidal etc.

Lufuno’s victimization and her tragic death highlight the scourge, as well as the seriousness of the problem of bullying in South Africa schools. Bullying is a form of gender-based violence. It is based on the asymmetrical relations of power that are prevalent in our patriarchal society. The key feature of such relations is men and boys assuming authority, domination, and control through violence against girls and women.

However, Lufuno’s victimization draws our attention to the complexities of bullying and gender power relations among learners at school. Although boys and men often emerge as perpetrators of violence against girls and women, bullying in schools is a complex issue and girls are not always the passive victims of male violence. Both girls and boys can become victims and bullies.

Bullying is an expression of power

Bullying is an expression of power, and girls too can express power through forms of violence against other girls and against some boys.

 School-based bullying has various consequences for everyone at school, but victims often incur the most devastation from bullying. The consequences of being bullied at school include the development of psychological and emotional problems such as distress, damaged self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

If these problems are not addressed timeously or appropriately, it could result in suicide. However, the risk of committing suicide among victims of bullying can only be significantly reduced if proper resources and victim support services are available at the school.

Tree of Life Methodology widely used by Phola is designed to encourage learners to speak out about their experiences, perceptions and anxieties around bullying. It would be impossible to understand the Tree of Life methodology and its value or potential without appreciating narrative therapy and its core principles that inform this approach to counselling.

Phola's Tree of Life Narrative Methodology rolled out to schools to educate our youth to lead preferred lives.

Tree of Life was initially developed to respond to the emotional and psychological pain experienced by orphans, vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS.  The methodology has been adapted to help learners who have experienced bullying, trauma, or any form of emotional or physical violence at school.

Following the advent of coronavirus pandemic, the organisation has seen a surge in its services. The core business of Phola is psychosocial support, mental health, counselling, narrative therapy, and training. The organization’s footprint is spreading beyond Cosmo city, Zandspruit and Diepsloot which are in Johannesburg North.

It now reaches communities in Boksburg, Pretoria, Orange Farm and Vereeniging. The collaboration with schools, churches, community groups and community-based organizations with similar synergies is bearing fruit and tangible results. We are getting encouraging feedbacks on the ground.

The linkages have helped the organisation to reach more communities and to become a household name in South Africa and globally.

Given the growing scourge of bullying at schools Phola strengthened partnerships with parents, communities, government, religious institutions, and other relevant stakeholders in exploring effective ways of addressing bullying at school. The engagements include learners’ voices and perspectives on the issue of bullying and how to end or mitigate against it.





Is charity on the same pedestal as love? I believe charity is on a much higher plane than love. Love is a labyrinth of emotions and feelings hence its susceptible to pride, prejudice, expectations. Love is usually informed by relationships, friendships, and family bonds. But charity is giving a helping hand to someone not necessarily related to or known. It could be stranger from a different community or people living in another country.

Phola Community Facilitators reaching out.

When disaster strikes in any corner of the world, it is part of human nature to empathize and at times mobilize resources or even avail our skills and knowledge and lend a helping hand to those in distress. The urge is there to ameliorate or mitigate pain, loss, and suffering of fellow human beings.

Among the common disasters afflicting mankind are civil wars, floods, earthquakes, drought, and diseases like Ebola, malaria, and the current deadly pandemic coronavirus. Following the outbreak of covid-19 virus individuals from poor communities came out in the streets begging for food from passersby mostly in busy intersections, and outside shopping malls.

Phola was among the frontline organizations which provided psycho-social support and food parcels to the victims of gender-based violence during lockdown. The beneficiaries were women and children from Diepsloot, Cosmo city, Zandspruit and Alexander township.

Phola’s act of kindness might have been a drop in an ocean, but the ocean will be a drop less without it. The emaciated bodies of half-dressed children told a thousand stories of hunger and deprivation. Some related sad stories of how they had survived by scavenging in the dust bins.

Phola helping SA’s youth

The highest act of giving is charity. It is unequivocal, unparalleled, and selfless sacrifice borne from UBUNTU. This is the highest stage of love and knows no boundaries and is blind. It knows no religion, political affiliation, prejudices, color, or creed.

Phola’s psycho-social work services are offered gratis. The work is made possible through goodwill, partnerships and collaboration with organizations sharing similar synergies.

Phola’s mission and philosophy are firmly anchored on the values of UBUNTU, encapsulated in the motto, ‘I will be my brother’s keeper.’ Isn’t this the cornerstone of humanity, caring beyond measure and loving without limits?