“Our hearts sank when we saw the bruises on her face, despite her being innocent.” The news of Lufuno Mavhunga’s suicide has sparked outrage after, following a series of assaults and bullying by her fellow pupils, the grade 10-learner took her own life. There is a sinking feeling while watching the video that was widely shared on social media. One hears how pupils were encouraging one another to assault and bully Lufuno – an innocent young girl who did nothing wrong.
Lufuno blocked her bullies on every form of social media, asked for help and tried to make it out alive. She had experienced a long history of bullying at her school, and despite it being reported she received no help. What happened to Lufuno went further than bullying, resulting in criminal charges of assault being brought against her perpetrator. But what is particularly heart-breaking is seeing a group of people who chose not to intervene, who chose not to help, and who chose to instead cheer on the brutal assault of a young girl. And it all resulted in her lifeless body being found by her mother when Lufuno lost all hope. How can we, as a country, hope for a better future while bullying is so rampant in schools?
In South Africa, millions of children are victims of bullying, harassment, and abuse at schools. We see this in the news headlines way too often. But do we truly realise the extent of bullying? Crime statistics have shown that there were 891 criminal cases involving serious assaults that were opened as a result of bullying in our country’s schools. Over the span of the same year, nine murders and 19 cases of attempted murder was also recorded by the SAPS. It is important to be mindful that these statistics only refer to cases that were reported, meaning that the actual extent of violent bullying in our schools can be much more severe. It is clear that schools are not safe havens for the children of our country but admitting the existence of learner violence in our schools is quite painful. Violence has become commonplace, and there is little protection for bullied learners. Bullying causes serious harm for everyone at the school, primarily for the victims who face humiliation, degradation, alongside other significant psychological and emotional consequences. It significantly impacts the quality of education that children of our country receive, alongside inexcusable infringements of their most basic human rights, such as the right to education, dignity, life, and to be free of bodily harm by enjoying their rights to bodily integrity.
Condemning and fixing violence in schools must become a government priority. Those in charge of educational facilities must take a firm step towards anti-bullying and adopt a zero-tolerance approach followed by severe consequences for the perpetrators. There is an urgent need for schools to have social media policies in place against cyber-bullying and ensure consequences for those who bully other learners. In light of the death of Lufuno, the South African Council for Educators (the SACE) has drafted a heavy textbook to guide teachers on how to deal with real-life scenarios of bullying in the classroom. While aspects like these will ensure that teachers are more equipped to deal with cases of bullying, there is a dire need to ensure that learners themselves are more educated and that it is easier to report when someone is being bullied. It is only through implementing consequences for bullies, and easier more supportive reporting methods for those who are bullied, that we will see change. It is only then, when we move away from blaming the victims of bullying, that we can begin to make our schools the safe place of learning that it was supposed to be.