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Bullied Limpopo schoolgirl’s suicide raises disturbing questions about moral compass of our children

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

The death of Lufuno Mavhunga is all the more disturbing because the bullying that sparked it was recorded on phones by fellow pupils, who spread it on social media without even thinking of rushing to help her.

The death of 15-year-old Limpopo schoolgirl Lufuno Mavhunga on 12 April 2o21 after she was apparently bullied at school has sent shockwaves through the education landscape. The slender Grade 10 pupil allegedly took her own life. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Bullying is not unique to South Africa. Recently, France was shaken by the murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl whose body was found in a river. She had allegedly also been the victim of bullying at school. A few phone calls to school principals confirmed my suspicion that it is increasing, especially among girls.

What is also upsetting is that other pupils recorded the Limpopo incident on their cellphones and spread it on social media without even thinking of rushing to help her. This raises questions about the moral compass of our children and what schools can (or should) do about these forms of behaviour.

According to Limpopo Education MEC Polly Boshielo, bullying is increasing. She called on schools to strongly reprimand pupils over the custom of placing such incidents on social media. It is humiliating for the victim and affects the dignity of families.

It is important that children are taught to respect the privacy and dignity of their fellows. So it is gratifying that the Western Cape Education Department launched an anti-bullying campaign a few years ago, with the slogan “Raise your voice, not your phone”, to combat the placing of videos on social media.

Globally, bullying is seen as any action which physically, verbally, emotionally or psychologically damages a subordinate person and holds a general health risk for them. One result of this is the negative psychological impact on a child with low self-esteem, causing sadness and anger or ongoing unhappiness. Someone who is bullied finds it hard to adapt to others in society, is a lonely figure and is often absent from school or the workplace.

At an increased rate, bullying leads to health issues, with high levels of anxiety, depression, signs of psychological disorders and suicidal thoughts. Lufuno Mavhunga is a typical example of this.

Various treatments can be considered as antidotes to bullying, including helping victimised pupils to develop self-defence skills. Similarly, therapeutic support can create an awareness of the negative effects of pupils’ antisocial behaviour. The fact is that we dare not just keep quiet.

We have all been bullied at least once in our lives, or know someone who was bullied or is being bullied. We know how humiliating it is and what a negative effect it has on our freedom. That is why parents, teachers and the whole of society should have a zero-tolerance attitude towards bullying. DM

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