Gender-based violence has been defined by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as ‘Violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.’ It remains as one of the biggest challenges and obstacles to development in the country.

Sadly, South Africa is among the countries with the highest rate of rape in the world.

Police recorded an average of 110 rape cases daily in 2017/2018 and the figure did not account for unreported incidents. Rape, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence are particularly prevalent.

Rape is a terrible trauma that violates the deepest places of a woman’s being. Emotional responses to trauma are normal and natural, and people react in diverse ways. Reactions include confusion, crying, fatigue and depression, flashbacks, sleeping disturbances, anger, fear, anxiety, grief, fear or substance abuse, problems with relationships, or work, suicidal thoughts, and feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

She feels ashamed and dirty. She wonders if she could have stopped it or prevented it. She blames herself.

Let’s work together to eradicate GBV and Rape.

In addition to these feelings, a rape survivor may sustain physical injuries. I could be beating, choking, or stabbing. She faces the possibility of being pregnant, of having contracted venereal disease or HIV, and carries this anxiety with her long after the rape.

At times society blames rape survivors for the ordeal. Therefore, it is important for a survivor to talk to someone she trusts or seek professional help.

In his study on rape in South Africa, Vogelmann notes that, “All women, whether raped or not, fear rape and take precautionary measures which limit their freedom” Rape is an act affecting all women, regardless of whether they are personally raped.

Women are aware of their vulnerability to rape and other forms of violence against them., Thus, they restrict their lives, not venturing to certain places at night or alone, not taking certain jobs, not visiting friends.

Women who have survived rape need the unconditional belief and acceptance of those they tell their story to. It is rare for a woman to make a false rape claim. It is far more likely that a man, in confronted with what he has done, will deny having raped. Most women never tell anyone about their ordeal, such is the shame and victim- blaming surrounding rape. It she does tell someone; it often takes great courage to do. She needs emotional support, medical care, counselling and must report the incident at a police station.

Phola organisation was established in 2016 to address the psychosocial and mental health problems associated with violence, crime, substance abuse, child abuse, gender-based violence, hardships, and trauma.

At Phola Village women and children experiencing gender-based violence or any form of abuse can get help. The Phola Director Ncazelo Mlilo is a psychologist with experience in psychosocial work and counselling.

During the past two decades she has developed methodologies now widely used internationally in countries such as Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Brazil, Swaziland, South Africa, Uganda, and Russia. Her leading publication is The Tree of Life Methodology developed in 2006.

Phola’s Approach to Assisting Survivors is rooted in our Narrative Therapies;

Tree of Life Methodology

Is a hopeful and inspiring approach to working with children, young people and adults who have experienced trauma. It uses metaphors and carefully formulated questions inviting children and others to tell stories about significant experiences in their lives in ways that make them stronger and hopeful about the future. The methodology allows people to explore to explore difficult issues in their lives such as abuse, loss, and grief without being re-traumatized by these experiences.


This is a methodology that takes women and others affected by violence, crime, and abuse through ten sessions that allows them to separate from shame, guilt, and psychological distress resultant from traumatic experience.

Narrative Therapy in the Suitcase Project

The Narratives in The Suitcase project uses journey metaphors to support children and people on the move to share stories, about their movements in ways that gives them hope about their lives and the future.

O.U.T.T.R.A.G.E.D. Methodology (Men and Boys)

O.U.T.T.RA.G.E.D. is a collective narrative therapy framework that facilitates conversations with men and boys for the prevention of violence and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in particular.

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.