Brother and teacher pay tribute to Lufuno, whose death has sparked calls to tackle bullying.
It was a sombre mood as community members, pupils and politicians alike filled up the Spirit Ambassadors International Church in Nzhelele in Limpopo yesterday.
They came in their numbers to bid farewell to Lufuno Mavhunga, who took her own life after being allegedly bullied by a fellow pupil on Monday.
Her parents, Joseph and Fulufhelo Mavhunga, sat next to each other. Tears filled her mother’s eyes, which were barely visible behind the blue facemask she wore. Her father gently comforted his wife throughout the funeral service.
Lufuno was just 15 years old when she passed away after overdosing on medicine she took when she got home from school, where she had allegedly been assaulted by a fellow pupil.
Her family had hoped “she could achieve things we have not been able to achieve”, her brother Kenneth Mavhunga (39) told City Press outside the family home in Nzhelele in the Vhembe district a day before the funeral.
As the family prepared to lay Lufuno to rest, an emotional Kenneth said he had never imagined that he would bury his teenage sister.
“It has been tough. Her death has taken its toll on the entire family,” he said as he slowly shook his head.
He recalled the last conversation he had with his sister, who he said was intelligent, driven and determined in everything she did.
“She was an independent thinker who always wanted to be in control of her situation, no matter what. As a family, we would not be surprised if this assault and bullying were not the first she had experienced, but she decided to keep it to herself. That was the type of person she was. She wanted to deal with things herself,” he said.
“We were close. I remember the last time we spoke, I told her how she was our hope, and that we could not wait for her to become something that we as her siblings could not.”
With an age difference of 24 years – she was the youngest of nine children – Kenneth, after a long pause, explained how Lufuno was not just his “little sister”.
“Yes, she was my sister, but to me she was more like a daughter. She was a smart girl and that is why our parents decided to take her to Mbilwi [Secondary School] – because of the status of the school.”
He was describing the school, located in the town of Sibasa, that is known for its excellent matric results. It has been producing a 100% pass rate since 1994.
While Mbilwi is held in high regard academically, Kenneth said the school failed his sister.
“The family decided that would be the best school for her, where she could be with children of her calibre. She was intelligent and we knew that her dream was to become a doctor.”
While there is uncertainty about what medication Lufuno took, her concerned brother explained that their mother “has a health condition for which she takes medication”.
“My mother suffers from anxiety attacks, a condition for which she takes medication. There is a possibility that she [Lufuno] took that medication because she was the one who normally administered it to my mother when she would forget to take it. So we believe that some of the medication was in her room,” he said.
“My mother found her unconscious, they then called the ambulance. Unfortunately, on her way to Siloam Hospital in Makhado, she lost her life.”
A video showing Lufuno being bullied – she was repeatedly slapped in the face by a girl – has caused outrage, with social media users calling for action.
With the hashtag #JusticeForLufuno trending, holding back tears, Kenneth told City Press that he could not bring himself to watch it: “I know the video exists. I tried to watch it, but I could only stomach a few seconds of it. I could not bring myself to watch the entire thing.
“My heart could not take it and I do not think I will ever be able to watch it. That is not the last memory of my sister I want to have. She was strong, not weak.”
Even though Lufuno had never mentioned being bullied at school, Kenneth told City Press that his sister once confided in their mother about how “kids at the school were always fighting”.
This revelation was confirmed by her classmate Khudami Madzivhamdila, who said he had also been bullied: “I think a lot of pupils do not openly speak about bullying because when you report it, no harsh action is taken by the principal. I have also been a victim of bullying and I know the scars it leaves on you. Lufuno’s death could have been avoided. It was an unnecessary loss.
“I feel sad about what happened because she didn’t deserve this. She was quiet and didn’t bother anyone. I do know the girl who assaulted Lufuno. I know her name. The school needs to do more to deal with pupils who bully others,” he said.
“Simply calling someone’s parents is not a solution. The principal must take decisive action and show leadership before we lose another innocent soul.”
Mbilwi Secondary School principal, Cedric Lidzhade, told City Press that he would not comment.
“This is not my school,” said an irate Lidzhade. “I cannot comment. The right people to comment on this would be the [Limpopo] department of education.”
Speaking to City Press, Education MEC Polly Boshielo said bullying was an ongoing challenge that needed to be addressed urgently.
“Bullying has always been there, but the fact that in this instance it escalated the way it did should worry us all,” Boshielo said.
The teenager accused of assaulting Lufuno appeared in the Thohoyandou Children’s Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
The case against the 15-year-old girl, who was arrested at the school this week, was postponed to Tuesday for a formal bail application.
“We do not know the girl who assaulted my sister. We don’t know where she lives,” Kenneth said.
“We do not know the family. We know nothing about her.
“To be quite honest, at this moment in time, I do not think we have any interest in knowing her,” he added.
“Her family has not contacted us or said anything to us. We do not know why they have not made contact. Maybe they are afraid, and possibly in a state of shock.”
A Grade 9 English teacher at Mbilwi Secondary School, who gave her name as Miss Maphophe, spoke about her time as Lufuno’s teacher last year.
Devastated by her pupil’s death, Maphophe said no one deserved to die like that.
“She never liked the spotlight and kept to herself a lot. She was very reserved and that is why this is such a shock, that her life has ended because someone laid her hands on this quiet girl,” she said.
Asked about bullying incidents at the school, Maphophe said there was only so much they could do as teachers: “I think the school is doing the best it can in trying to prevent bullying. We do try to talk to the pupils and I am not sure what more we can do.”
The Mavhungas’ neighbour, David Mukwevho (25), who watched Lufuno grow up, said her death sent shock waves through the community.
“We have never had an incident of death like this before. She was so young and had so much to live for.”
Lufuno was laid to rest yesterday in a ceremony that saw community members, politicians and fellow pupils honour her.