Maverick Citizen


Turning bullies into buddies – the classroom cruelty that awakened Njabulo Zulu’s gift for motivating people

Turning bullies into buddies – the classroom cruelty that awakened Njabulo Zulu’s gift for motivating people
Njabulo Zulu. (Photo: Thom Pierce, The Actionists)

It’s been seven years since Njabulo Zulu stood before her whole school to deliver an anti-bullying message. She has since delivered countless motivational speeches at schools around Soshanguve and beyond.

Njabulo Zulu was bullied at primary school. Her dark complexion and the texture of her hair made her prey for the other kids who were looking for an easy target. One day three boys came to class, two of them held her down while the other grabbed her hair, to “check if it was real”. Little did they know that their cruelty would light a fire in her that changed the conversation around bullying for hundreds of school kids in the township of Soshanguve. 

At 10 years old Njabulo decided that she wanted to deliver an anti-bullying message to her whole school through a presentation at morning assembly. Her message was simple: “Don’t be a bully, be a buddy. “ And her short but direct speech immediately changed the way other children saw her. 

I’m so in love with helping people, talking to people, giving advice and solutions.

Seven years later, Njabulo has delivered countless motivational speeches at schools around Soshanguve and beyond. Over the years she has broadened her message to include teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and social media addiction, but her matter-of-fact approach remains the same.

After the first speech, kids started to approach her, in person and over social media, to tell her about their problems, asking her for advice. She has always been keen to help and she felt a responsibility towards every one of them, so she answered their messages; listening, giving support and advice.

Through a close relationship with her mum and a growing network of professional contacts, she manages her responsibility to the people who contact her, referring them to professionals when needed. 

“I’m so in love with helping people, talking to people, giving advice and solutions. I love counselling people.”

Over the years the number of people who approach Njabulo has risen dramatically. She estimates that through Facebook she now receives about 70 messages a week from people asking for help. And it’s not just kids. Adults get in touch with her to unload about their marriages and life problems, and parents contact her to ask for advice about connecting with their children, something that Njabulo feels unqualified to deal with, but responsible to support.

“My faith that I have in being able to change just one person’s life – that gives me hope to do my work. ”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Blending community with hope — talking about mental health is everyone’s cup of tea

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tiny Dhlamini is planting the seeds for a healthier future in a toxic environment

Njabulo is not an attention-seeking teenager, she is softly spoken and thoughtful. But she does recognise that she has a gift for motivating people. Through a self-produced TV show called Trusted Talks she has taken her talents to the next level. In its third season, and broadcast on Soweto TV, the talk show deals with mental health and the daily challenges faced by teenagers. 

This year Njabulo is also running a campaign to promote the equal treatment of the deaf community. To do this she is learning Sign Language and hosting a public performance that will showcase the talents of deaf people in the community.

You may be wondering if all of this is leading to a life of professional counselling. Quite possibly yes, but Njabulo has varied interests and will pursue many dreams: While studying psychology and Sign Language at university, she also wants to train to be a food analyst and pastry chef. DM

It’s Women’s Month in South Africa and so, throughout August, The Actionists will exclusively be featuring stories of inspiring women who are working to make a positive change in the world around them.

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]


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