South Africa

Cyber-bullying outrage at Gqeberha school

Cyber-bullying outrage at Gqeberha school

The cruelty of cyberbullying and the devastating effect it has on young people have been laid bare by a Gqeberha high school pupil overdosing on pills in a bid to escape the torment she was made to endure.  

Thankfully, the Sanctor High School pupil was discharged from Livingstone Hospital at the weekend.

But the incident has highlighted the growing scourge of cyberbullying taking hold in SA and other parts of the world.

Only last week, grade 10 pupil Lufuno Mavhunga of Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo took her own life after she was violently beaten by one of her peers. A video of the beating did the rounds on social media. Mavhunga reportedly overdosed on prescription pills. A 15-year-old schoolgirl was subsequently arrested and charged for assaulting Mavhunga.

The Sanctor girl’s family will meet school officials on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

The disturbing incident relates to a recent Facebook post.

Advocacy group Equal Education Law Centre said bullying, which was an intentional act, involved far more than mere childish bickering or competition. 

The group said bullying was a psychologically-motivated act that infringed on various rights of pupils and could even lead to a victim’s death.

Eastern Cape education department spokesperson Vuyiseka Mboxela said bullying was an indication of the violent and uncaring societies pupils came from.

Mboxela said the incident at the Gqeberha school was unfortunate, but she had been unaware of it. 

However, it was confirmed by Sanctor High principal Keith Buck.

He said he was unsure when exactly the photo was taken and uploaded to social media but was made aware of the incident on Friday when the victim’s sister alerted him to it.

The pupil was in hospital on Friday, he said. .

“She gave permission to a friend to take a picture of her from the front.

“Another [pupil] took a picture of her from a different angle and made comments that were out of context.

“That was the trigger for what she has done,” he said.

Buck said the pupil was discharged from hospital on Saturday but returned for a check-up on Monday.

He said the culprit would be subjected to a  disciplinary hearing and the school would assist the victim with counselling.

“At this stage, the welfare of the pupil is the priority for me.

“This matter is not yet finalised and action will be taken.

“Should anyone need psychological or anger management treatment, it will be provided,” Buck said.

He would not confirm the grade of the male pupil and said he was still trying to get in touch with his parents.

Buck said the situation was of a sensitive nature and would have consequences for both the victim and perpetrator.

“We need to send a message to others that this is not allowed, this is not on.

“You cannot post pictures online of others without their consent.”

He said the school had an anti-bullying policy but it needed to be revisited and reworked in terms of social media and the use of cellphones.

Equal Education Law Centre spokesperson Tad Khosa said it was the responsibility of schools to have an anti-bullying policy in place and a procedure for pupils to report bullying.

Khosa said looking at systemic factors of violence in SA and the historical legacy of using violence to address certain issues, the organisation did not advocate corporal punishment as a means to deal with the issue of bullying.

Tina Thiart, a trustee at 1000 Women 1 Voice, an organisation that campaigns against gender-based violence and provides anti-bullying education at schools, said schools needed to have more discussions about what cyberbullying was and how they should deal with social media in a school environment.

“Personally, I think we can’t ban cellphones but there needs to be clear rules that are communicated to [pupils] and consequences that are implemented.

“What trauma volunteers find at schools is that young people do not know how to deal with conflict and parents arrive at schools making all sorts of demands and accusations, Thiart said.

She said teachers needed to be trained to deal with both victim and perpetrator and advised parents to document the incident in writing, instead of verbally reporting it to the school.

Social media law specialist  Emma Sadleir warned that bullying videos should not be shared on social media.

Sadleir said these videos should be submitted to the school or to police as evidence to be presented in court or at disciplinary hearings.

“A school is legally required by the South African Schools Act to prevent and punish all acts of humiliation, undermining human dignity and endangering mental or physical wellbeing of any [pupil].

“As long as the bullying takes place between learners of the same school, the school’s responsibility to discipline the aggressor is engaged.”

Referring to the recent incident in Limpopo, she said: “The perpetrator has been arrested for assault. She must be prosecuted. So should the pupils cheering her on [common purpose].”

Sadleir believes there is scope to develop SA law to hold bullies, both of the physical and cyber variety, liable if the bullying resulted in death.

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