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.
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, 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.
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.