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One Testicle, One Tragic End: Unravelling the Devastating Impact of Bullying in Lesotho

15 January 2024 by Limpho Sello

 Est Read Time: 8 min(s) 17 sec(s)

Sekake Mohale’s son, 17-year-old Potsane, committed suicide on 12 December 2023. He suffered from bullying-induced mental health.

“He was left with only one testicle,” said Sekake Mohale, his voice breaking as he recounted the harrowing ordeal his 17-year-old son, Potsane, had endured. The assault inflicted on young Potsane was more than a physical injury; it was a deep wound to his psyche, stripping away his self-esteem and altering his identity.

Potsane’s journey from a vibrant, academically gifted teenager to a young man grappling with intense physical and emotional trauma, tragically culminated on December 12, 2023. Unable to bear the burden of his altered body and the scars of bullying, he took his own life, leaving behind a suicide note. This note offered a poignant, yet painfully inadequate glimpse into his internal struggle.

“In his suicide note, he only mentioned that he could no longer live with an incomplete body,” Mohale bravely shared with Uncensored News on January 9, 2024. His words, heavy with grief, continued: “He no longer liked the way he was because he wasn’t born like that. He hated how he looked.”

According to Mohale, this suicide letter left the family grappling with too many unanswered questions. In search of answers, Mohale turned to Potsane’s girlfriend and friends. He later learned that Potsane’s bullies, responsible for his injury, mocked him for the loss of his testicle, taunting him as an incomplete man.

Additionally, Potsane’s medical condition, asthma, was a target for mockery, with bullies cruelly saying, “ke pholo lea utloa na e hema joang” – translated as “he breathes like a bull.” Compounding his struggles, Potsane’s affection for a girl at school was exploited against him by older bullies.

When asked if there were signs of Potsane grappling with depression, Mohale revealed that his son underwent counselling therapy after losing a testicle. He was even taken to Mohlomi Mental Hospital, but the treatment seemed futile.

“It looks like it never helped,” Mohale lamented, “because the bullying and mocking continued, rubbing salt into the wounds of someone still trying to heal and come to terms with his body change.”

Manapo Tsemane, a psychiatric nurse with experience as the former managing nursing services at Mohlomi Mental Hospital, acknowledges the pervasive nature of bullying in schools.

She highlights that this harmful behaviour manifests in various forms, including physical, emotional, and cyberbullying. According to Tsemane, these acts profoundly impact the mental health of those who endure them, often leading to a range of mental health conditions.

“The common illnesses resulting from bullying are depression and suicide,” Tsemane shared with Uncensored News.

She emphasises the crucial role of parents and guardians in addressing this issue, stating, “To protect learners from the effects of bullying, it’s essential for parents and guardians to become friends with their children.”

This approach, she suggests, can foster open communication and provide a supportive environment for children facing such challenges.

Bullying prevalent in Lesotho schools – study.

The 2015 study, ‘The Prevalence of Bullying at High Schools in Lesotho: Perspectives of Teachers and Students,’ defines bullying as behaviour that inflicts social, physical, or emotional harm on another person.

According to the study, “Bullying is aggressive behaviour that manifests both overtly, in physical and verbal attacks, and covertly, through social exclusion and spreading harmful messages about the victims.”

The study highlights a concerning trend: “Bullying is a significant issue in many schools across Lesotho, yet it has not garnered sufficient attention from the Ministry of Education and Training. There is a lack of comprehensive studies to fully illustrate the scope of the problem.”

The researchers warn that unchecked bullying can transform learning into a distressing experience, potentially driving victims to extreme measures, including suicide.

One key distinction the study makes is between bullying and interpersonal conflict. In bullying situations, there is typically a power imbalance, with the bully being more powerful and deliberate in causing harm, while the victim is often seen as weaker and more submissive.

The study also points out a critical gap in awareness among teachers and parents. It states, “Youngsters are more likely to discuss their problems with friends or relatives, as teachers and parents are often perceived as exacerbating the issue rather than helping.”

Sekake Mohale, the father of a 17-year-old bullying victim, echoes this sentiment based on his personal experience.

“As a parent, I was blind to the ongoing bullying because my son was an A student and his academic performance never waned,” Mohale explained.

He further revealed, “His friends also mentioned that they had urged him to talk to me about the ordeal he was facing. However, he always knew how hell would break loose if he told me. He knew I was not going to leave it alone.”

Why do Learners bully each other?

LEPSA President Mathafeng Moteuli.

Lesotho Principals Association (LESPA) President Mathafeng Moteuli sheds light on the complexities of bullying behaviour in Lesotho’s educational institutions. Identified bullies undergo counselling sessions in schools to explore the roots of their conduct.

“Believe me, when we talk to them, it’s evident they carry heavy burdens from their home lives,” Moteuli revealed in his January 14, 2024 interview with Uncensored News.

“Our one-on-one sessions often show they don’t even realise their actions are bullying. For some, such behaviour is normalised, a reflection of what they witness at home, like constant verbal or physical abuse between parents. They see it as just another part of life.”

Moteuli stressed the need for re-education. “We sit with them, guiding them towards understanding appropriate behaviours. Where more intensive intervention is required, we refer them to the Ministry of Education’s office, which deals with psychological issues.”

He further added, “But there are also cases where children simply choose to be malicious, taking pride in harming others. For those, we involve our disciplinary office to correct and reprimand their behaviour, bringing them back in line.”

The report ‘The Prevalence of Bullying at High Schools in Lesotho: Perspectives of Teachers and Students’ offers another perspective, suggesting that some bullies may have a poor self-concept, hiding their insecurities behind academic and interpersonal aggressions. Bullying might be a way for them to compensate for their deficiencies in other developmental areas.

“Alfred Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology indicates that people seek attention, whether positive or negative, to mask perceived weaknesses. Thus, youngsters who struggle with the transition to adulthood or high school, lacking proper interpersonal skills, might vent their frustrations on those they perceive as weaker,” the report states.

Though it’s unclear if Potsane’s bullies struggled academically, Potsane himself was an exceptional student. His academic prowess, which consistently impressed teachers and parents, may have drawn the ire of his bullies.

“What I hear from his friends is that teachers would comment in class on how a genius he is and that he was performing better despite his junior years. That is what attracted his treatment,” Mohale said.

Potsane excelled in all subjects at the Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE) and was initially admitted to the National University of Lesotho (N.U.L.). However, he chose at the last minute to enroll at Botho University.

“He discovered that the same people who bullied him were also admitted at N.U.L. He feared repeating the high school ordeal,” his father, Mohale, learned from Potsane’s friends after his son’s tragic passing.

Picking up the pieces.

When Potsane first sustained injuries that led to the surgical removal of his testicle, he initially concealed the true cause from his father.

“The same year my son arrived at that school, they kicked him and injured his testicles. He hid it from us at first, but the pain became unbearable, and we had to take him to the hospital,” recounted Mohale.

“When we inquired about the injury, he claimed he had fallen. Knowing the school from my own experience, I suspected this wasn’t true. After further questioning, especially following the therapy session post his testicle removal surgery, he reluctantly admitted that he was kicked by some boys at school. I even approached his class teacher about it.”

Despite being a closely-knit family, where Mohale, Potsane, and his brother usually discussed almost everything, Potsane kept silent about this issue.

“We were open about many things, and I always encouraged them to share, even about their personal affairs. He was very close to his brother, but he never shared how deeply this affected him, which eventually led to his tragic end,” shared the grieving father.

When asked how he is coping with the loss of his son, Mohale admitted he is still in the midst of the healing process.

“It’s a tough situation to handle, realising he was suffering internally. I don’t want to place blame; my focus is on healing. I’ve lost my child, and indulging in blame will only hinder my recovery.”

Having been a former student at Lesotho High School and witnessed bullying himself decades ago, Mohale feels at a loss for advice to offer parents whose children might be struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges due to bullying.

“I really don’t know what to say to other parents, except they need to be more vigilant and aware of what’s happening in their children’s private lives. Nowadays, challenges like cyberbullying demand that we closely monitor our children,” Mohale concluded.

Teachers and parents urged to increase vigilance.

‘Manapo Tsemane is a psychiatric nurse with experience as the former managing nursing services at Mohlomi Mental Hospital.

‘Manapo Tsemane, a psychiatric nurse, highlights the significance of everyday interactions between parents and their children. Tsemane underscores those simple conversations about daily events, encompassing both positive and negative aspects, can play a pivotal role in helping parents detect if their children are experiencing bullying.

However, Tsemane advises parents to refrain from burdening their children with overly personal or deep marital issues, as this could compound any existing challenges the children face.

“It is crucial for parents or guardians to inquire about their children’s day at school, encompassing the overall environment, classroom activities, and lessons learned. These dialogues can unveil a great deal about a child’s life on school campuses, a place where they spend considerable time. Grasping their experiences is essential, particularly as schools can be tough environments, and discussing bullying might be difficult due to threats from bullies,” she explained.

Tsemane warns that children often hesitate to share their experiences because of the fear of being disregarded or ignored, or due to past attempts at communication that were not taken seriously. She also points out that physical abuse is a worrying factor, with children sometimes hiding the truth about their injuries, attributing them to incidents such as falls or rough play.

“This reluctance to speak out can originate from threats by their abusers or fear of their parents’ angry reactions, which might exacerbate the situation rather than ameliorate it. Parents are encouraged to control their tempers and address their children’s issues calmly, as this approach often leads to more effective solutions.

“A lack of support from teachers, peers, and parents can push children to perceive suicide as their only way out. To effectively counter bullying, maintaining a balanced academic environment is imperative, where no student feels either inferior or superior. Teachers have a pivotal role in nurturing a healthy classroom environment, fostering respect for individual differences, and urging students to support and care for each other,” Tsemane added.

The report ‘The Prevalence of Bullying at High Schools in Lesotho: Perspectives of Teachers and Students’ recommends that the Ministry of Education and Training conduct a more comprehensive national survey to determine the extent of the problem.

“In the process of executing the national study, the Ministry of Education and Training should also evaluate teachers’ abilities in addressing bullying and aiding students’ overall psychosocial development.

“Pending the national survey, the Ministry of Education and Training, through the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), is recommended to empower teachers in life skills education and ensure the implementation of life skills education in all schools,” the report suggests.

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