The Limpopo department of social development has come under fire from the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) for what the commission said was the department’s failure to provide support to Mbilwi Secondary School following a bullying incident that led to the death of a learner.
Last week, the commission held three-day hearings into bullying, corporal punishment and sexual relations between educators and learners in Limpopo.
At the start of the hearings on Tuesday, commission provincial head Victor Mavhidula said the hearings emanated from the bullying incident at Mbilwi Secondary School in Sibasa outside of Thohoyandou, last month, when a video of Lufuno Mavhunga being hit by another learner went viral on social media. Mavhunga killed herself shortly after the incident.
Mavhidula said the commission realised that problems in schools were more extensive than they had anticipated and that there were many learners who were being bullied.
The 14-year-old perpetrator spent two weeks at a child care centre before being released on bail. She has been charged with assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Her case goes back to court on Thursday.
Last Thursday, the head of department at the provincial department of social development, Desmond Mahopo, told the hearing that the department had established a bullying task team that would be able to come up with plans and implement them in order to address bullying in schools. Mahopo said the task team had been established after the incident at Mbilwi.
But when pressed by Mavhidula on the exact date of the task team being formed, Mahopo could not provide a date.
This infuriated Mavhidula, who said the HRC had been to the school several times and had been made aware that learners and teachers had not received any counselling from the department.
“You are talking about a task team that you are alleging has been formed, but we as the Human Rights Commission, what we know is that your social workers visited the school only once, a day after the incident … And you are sitting here saying there is a task team [and that] social workers were there. I can tell you without hesitation that nothing has been done except that your social workers visited the school a day after the incident and from then they were nowhere to be found,” he said.
Mavhidula said Mahopo could not come before the hearing and present information that he could not back with facts, especially because the department had been given time to prepare. He said the head of department was misleading the commission.
“What is it that you have done as the department? You are not sure, you cannot even provide information, which means our conclusion as the commission is that the department has not done anything. If you have, provide us with the details now,” Mavhidula said.
But Mahopo would not back down, saying that the report he received was that the department did provide psycho-social support to learners and teachers at the school for five days, and also that a crisis intervention task team was “immediately established” to draft crisis intervention plans that would be implemented in the week of the bullying incident.
He further said the only thing that could be of dispute was when the social workers visited the school and the point when the commission visited the school.
He said the department could not be accused of not having done its work just because he could not provide the date on which the task team was constituted.
“I mean it is just a matter of a date that we can still confirm at a later stage. But in terms of rendering other services, I have already indicated that we rendered those services,” he said.
Mavhidula said it was “puzzling” that Mahopo could not provide details of a task team that he claimed was recently constituted.
“Our position is that there is no service that you have provided and we are concluding that. We gave you an opportunity to gather all the information. This matter is very sensitive and this is something that happened in April and now we have already forgotten the date on which we have established the task team, it cannot be possible.”
HRC commissioner Bokankatla Malatji said the conduct of the department was “unprofessional”.
“I am shocked by inappropriate statistics that are being given to the commission. This is really shocking. I am not impressed … That is wrong and that is not acceptable,” he said.
Mavhidula said issues of violence against learners at school were usually referred to as a societal issue, but said that term was used to absolve individuals who were failing to implement the law and do what was expected of them.
He said the commission was left “very disappointed” with the information provided by the department.