'She loved peace,' says brother of bullied teen, Lufuno Mavhunga who committed suicide
Lufuno Mavhunga from Nzhelele in Limpopo allegedly committed suicide after a video of her being bullied by fellow pupils went viral
“Lufuno was young and we were expecting more from her. Her departure has hurt us a lot,” said Dakalo Mavhunga, older brother of Lufuno Mavhunga, a bullied teen who committed suicide.
The 27-year-old Dakalo said on Wednesday the family was expecting great things from Lufuno, as she was the youngest and smartest in the family.
Lufuno, from Nzhelele in Limpopo, allegedly committed suicide after a video of her being bullied by fellow pupils went viral. In the video, the 15-year-old grade 10 pupil from Mbilwi Secondary School in the Vhembe east education district is seen being confronted by two girls. One of them signals the other to move while she gets closer to her to slap Lufuno countless times.
Lufuno grabs the pupil who is assaulting her in an attempt to block the blows saying, “You are hurting me.” But the girl continues to assault her.
Other pupils can be heard in the background cheering the alleged perpetrator, who is also in grade 10.
It is alleged that the perpetrator attacked Lufuno because she blocked her on WhatsApp and Facebook as she was sending insulting messages to her. She then confronted the victim, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Dakalo told TimesLIVE.
Police spokesperson Brig Motlafela Mojapelo said the incident allegedly took place at Sibasa Block A on Monday about 11.30am and was reported to the police on Wednesday.
“The victim reportedly went home in the afternoon and, on arrival, locked herself in the room and consumed an overdose of tablets. She was apparently found by her mother lying unconscious and was taken to Siloam Hospital, where she was certified dead on arrival,” said Mojapelo.
The police said they arrested a 15-year-old from the school on Wednesday over the assault.
“The arrested child will be dealt with in accordance with the Child Justice Act,” said Mojapelo.
He said an inquest docket had been opened into Lufuno's death, and that police investigations were ongoing.
As a family all we want is for Lufuno to find justice from what she has faced, maybe after that her soul will rest in peace.Dakalo Mavhunga, victim's brother
Lufuno, whose name translates to “love”, was a peaceful person, Dakalo said. “She was a very peaceful person and she had love, as her name suggests. She didn’t fight back when she was being slapped, she only tried to explain. But the girl didn’t even give her a chance.
“As a family all we want is for Lufuno to find justice from what she has faced, maybe after that her soul will rest in peace,” he said.
Dakalo said her sister wanted to become a doctor when she finished school so that she could treat her sickly mother. “That is what encouraged us to take her to Mbilwi Secondary School so that she could excel in maths and science. With Lufuno, I realised that the way she was so smart she deserved to be there [at Mbilwi],” he said.
He said he last spoke to her on Monday afternoon when she got home.
Dakalo said her sister was in tears as she explained through WhatsApp texts what happened and how she thought she failed a test because of what happened to her that day.
“When she explained the incident to me she sent me a WhatsApp message and I felt that when I knocked off [from work] I should call her. She kept on sending texts ... crying. I told her I would try to call her.
“I asked her what was happening and she said no-one even tried to help. When I called her she told me she couldn’t write and thinks she failed and the school didn’t get involved. The principal was told about the issue but he didn’t attend to the matter,” Dakalo said.
An attorney at advocacy group Section 27, Demichelle Petherbridge said action needed to be taken over the incident.
“We are encouraged that the Limpopo department of education has condemned this conduct and is taking steps to investigate. We expect the school to follow the disciplinary processes outlined in the school's code of conduct and the Schools Act and urge all schools to take urgent and deliberate steps to stop bullying,” said Petherbridge.
Meanwhile, the SAHRC in Limpopo conducted a fact-finding visit at the school. Office manager Victor Mavhidula said the commission would investigate whether the principal acted and will then make recommendations.
“The perpetrator was involved in fighting before. She is known to be a bully and started this [behaviour] while she was still in grade 8,” Mavhidula charged.
Mavhidula said after the incident, Lufuno was found crying outside when she was supposed to be writing a test.
“What we are going to do is to get more information. We also want to investigate if the department of education was aware of this incident and what is it that was done, because if a learner assaults somebody the principal or teachers must assist the learners to open a case with the police and that was not done. The principal was aware that there was a fight,” he said.
Teens 'struggling with feelings of hopelessness and sadness'
A South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) registered counsellor, Cayley Jorgensen, said bullying in all forms was a huge problem among South African school-going children. Bullying directly affects the mental health of all involved — from the victims, to the bystanders and to the bullies themselves.
“Over the past couple of months I have noticed an increase in suicide ideation, suicide attempts by both girls and boys, as well as an increase in bullying cases among teenagers.
“Research shows that 23.6% of teens are struggling with feelings of hopelessness and sadness, which raises the question: are we as a community doing enough to support teens?” said Jorgensen.
She said a change needs to be created one step at a time — through awareness, a culture of safety and, more importantly, respect for each other's differences.
“It is really important from a community perspective that teens are encouraged to reach out for support if they are struggling. In my experience, teens hold on to their thoughts and emotions,” said Jorgensen
“It is really important that we understand why these children are reacting to the perpetrator of bullying in the way they are. They are likely feeling hurt, angry and probably guilty if they were a bystander to the bullying that Lufuno experienced.
“One way that we can help stop cyberbullying is by encouraging teenagers and children to become upstanders rather than bystanders.”