HARARE – “Gwede rinofarira rugare nhamoichauya manheru (the freshman enjoys comfort now but suffering will come in the evening),” goes a popular tune sung by seniors to intimidate new comers at mission schools.
I first heard this song over 19 years ago but the sound of those senior girls singing still rings in my ears even now that I am a grown woman.
When I heard the song for the first time I could not fully comprehend its true meaning but I could sense danger from the body language exuded by these tormentors.
I quickly realised this was the bullying I had been warned about when I secured a place at Presbyterian Secondary School in Mhondoro.
Being a tough girl from the ghetto who brooked no nonsense, I embarked on my journey into secondary school with the belief that I would not be moved by any kind of bullying.
I survived the first night of boarding school without much incident but some of my mates had their beds drowned in cold water while some had to contend sharing their food with senior girls.
After the first 6 days I started feeling comfortable because nothing had happened yet. However, on the first Sunday of the term, the school held a debate session and I was picked as one of the pupils to take part.
Being a confident young girl, I thought debate was going to be a walk over. The minute I stood up and said; “Mr chairman” the whole school started booing while some started shouting …. “murungu,murungu” a thing that left me feeling very frightened.
They cheered and booed the entire time I was trying to speak and I wished the ground would just open up and swallow me.
As time went on, little by little I started believing there was something wrong with me that I need to change in order to fit in.
I was being bullied because I spoke with a different tone from other students and this label of “murungu we pa Press” shortcut for Presbyterian’s white person stuck on me till the day I left the school.
What disturbs me the most is that this sort of bullying happened in full view of teachers who were supposed to be our guardians.
Although the bullying did not get to a point where I was physically harmed, I was still wounded emotionally.
When I first heard about how a 12- year-old Sasha Ushewekunze tried to commit suicide after being bullied at Bradley High School in Bindura I could relate to her trauma.
Because of the bullying, the young girl who is now recovering at a private hospital felt that her life was not worth living anymore.
Ushewekunze’s case is one in the thousands of school pupils who are bullied in schools especially boarding schools.
Bullying which can be defined as student on student victimisation — can either be physical, verbal, emotional, cyber or sexual.
This usually takes place in the school set up and some of the bullying is actually sanctioned by the school systems.
The school system also has a way of bullying students. For instance a very popular boys high school in Harare allows school prefects to force Form 1 students to carry their bags and do various chores for them as a way of initiation.
However, with no close supervision, the bullying can turn nasty.
Recently a young boy was found dead in a swimming pool at Prince Edward High School and there is no clarity on how the form 1 pupil died.
The issue of bullying of children at boarding schools is something that is usually not taken seriously but it has drastic effects on children.
An irate mother Gillian Gotora had to transfer her daughter from St Dominics Girls High School after she attempted suicide.
Her daughter who had attended Twin Rivers, a private primary school was picked on by other students because she was different from them because she had attended a private primary school and came from an affluent family.
“At first I didn’t take my daughter seriously when she complained about being bullied but I sensed something was wrong with the school system when she attempted suicide,” Gotora said.
Another student who spoke to the Daily News but preferred anonymity said she had not been physically harmed but had been taunted to an unbearable level.
“I told my parents that if they did not want me to die, they should remove me from the school because I was going to kill myself.”
“I felt that taking my own life would be better than waiting for the bullies at school to kill me,” she said adding that some of the bullies even sent her nasty messages on social networking platform Facebook.
Although cyber bullying, which can be done using social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter is not being talked about it is still prevalent among school-going children.
In South Africa, some students even go to the extent of bringing guns to school as a way of protecting themselves from bullies.
A good number of students who turn to shooting usually do it as a way of defending themselves from bullies.
Bullies usually take advantage of the absence of school authorities during break time, physical education and after curricula activities.
In most of the cases, students deemed different, are the easy targets as jealousy and hate come into play.
A Childline public relations officer said her organisation had received many complaints of school bullying.
“In some cases they (schools) would rather not deal with it, especially at boys school they say ndizvo zvinoita varume (that is how men behave).
The Childline official who recently won the Ulrich Wickerd award for child rights said her organisation had since notified the ministry of education of the incidents of bullying in schools.
“The problem with bullying is that it is a vicious cycle, when children are in form 1 they are bullied and by the time they get to form 3 they revenge by bullying younger students,” she said.
ICT minister Nelson Chamisa says he is aware of cyber bullying around the country. He said they had held several consultations in the provinces where they discovered such matters.
“I am aware that Childline has been doing work to sensitise school children and the communities about the dangers of cyber bullying and sexting (sending sexual messages via sms).
“We are worried because ICTs are supposed to be tools but some have turned them into weapons to the extent of getting messages that are unpalatable to children. We are therefore coming up with policies and legislation that cures the mischief of our young ones,” Chamisa said.
Minister of Education Sports and Culture David Coltart said the issue of bullying was a big problem and that his ministry received reports of bullying from time to time.
He admitted that the ministry had not been able to deal effectively with the problem inspite of policies that prevent bullying. – Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor