Videos of South African girl driven to suicide by bullies shock the nation

Screengrab of the video filmed April 12 in Mbilwi High School in Thohoyandou (in northeastern South Africa).
Screengrab of the video filmed April 12 in Mbilwi High School in Thohoyandou (in northeastern South Africa). © Twitter

People across South Africa were shocked and horrified by the suicide of a teenage girl who had been bullied at school. A series of videos posted online show a classmate beating her as bystanders look on – an incident that took place the day she died. Authorities have launched an investigation into the circumstances around her death, which has sparked a nationwide mobilisation against bullying.

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Lufuno Mavhunga, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who lived in the town of Thohoyandou in northeastern South Africa, died on April 12 after overdosing on medicine. Members of her family said that Mavhunga took the medicine after being bullied earlier that day at Mbilwi High School. 

A video, which was filmed the day of her death and posted online, shows one of her classmates hitting Mavhunga as other students watch. We have chosen to only share screengrabs of the video, due to its’ shocking nature. 

Lufuno Mavhunga, at the left, tries to protect her face from the blows raining down from another student.
Lufuno Mavhunga, at the left, tries to protect her face from the blows raining down from another student. © Twitter

One of the students uses his phone to film the scene. Others watch. It sounds like some of the students are cheering on the girl who is hitting Mavhunga and laughing. 

A screengrab of the video shows a student filming the scene with her smartphone
A screengrab of the video shows a student filming the scene with her smartphone © Twitter

Another video shows Mavhunga walking next to another teenage girl. The person filming follows behind her, presumably with other high schoolers, though they don’t appear on camera. Some of them are making fun of Mavhunga and laughing at her.

The video shows Lufuno Mavhunga, here in the centre, walking along as other students make fun of her. She’s wearing a black backpack with white lettering and carries a pink water bottle.
The video shows Lufuno Mavhunga, here in the centre, walking along as other students make fun of her. She’s wearing a black backpack with white lettering and carries a pink water bottle. © Twitter

It’s this bullying and harassment that pushed the girl to suicide, according to a detailed testimony from her brother, which was published by the Sunday Times newspaper. He said that she was afraid that she had failed a test because she was so upset by the harassment. 

“I asked her what was happening and she said no one even tried to help,” her brother told the Sunday Times. “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."

After these videos were posted, the hashtag #JusticeForLufuno started circulating widely on social media with many calling for the bullies to be brought to justice and for stringent measures against bullying to be put in place.

"Mental health is a neglected topic in South Africa"

Tina Thiart is the president of the South African organisation 1000 Women 1 Voice, which fights against domestic violence and bullying. 

Bullying is a really serious issue in South Africa. It demonstrates the high level of violence present in society. Children are the first victims of this violence. 

It’s important to understand that most children who harass their peers usually have problems at home. Some have an absent parent, while others are witness to or victims of violence. It’s a problem all across the country, it’s not limited to certain social classes or backgrounds. 

We believe that domestic violence has a firm link with bullying. If a child witnesses domestic violence, then they learn to mistreat others, a behaviour that can emerge around the age of seven years old. In South Africa, one out of every four women is in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. We can only imagine the number of child bullies coming out of these households. 

We don’t want to put these bullies in prison, we just want to give them the keys to understand and channel their anger. We need the authorities to put in place ambitious legislation to address bullying in schools and online. We need to train teachers and professors about it. Mental health is a neglected topic here. 

I really have hope that the sad case of Lufuno Mavhunga will raise awareness about this. Local authorities have already contacted us, asking us to organise workshops on this topic. 

On Friday, April 16, local authorities announced that three students from the school had been suspended and that they would have to go before the disciplinary council on April 22. 

One of these students was also arrested by the police on suspicions of assault. According to several media outlets and the South African Commission for Human Rights, Mavhunga was beaten because she had blocked her assaillant on Facebook and WhatsApp because the girl was sending her insulting messages. 

Mavhunga’s funeral took place on April 17 in Thohoyandou.