THERE HAS BEEN A DISTURBING RISE IN TEENAGE SUICIDES AS YOUNG PEOPLE STRUGGLE TO COPE WITH LIFE’S DEMANDS – LECHANI MOKGOSI, 16, WAS NEARLY ONE OF THEM
She couldn’t take it anymore. The unkind laughter, name-calling, and finger pointing that tormented her as she turned the corner or walked down the school corridors.
With almost every student at Shangani Junior Secondary School labelling her a witch, 16-year-old Lechani Mokgosi turned to a bottle of painkiller tablets and swallowed 38 of the pills in two mouthfuls.
“ I wanted to kill myself. I was tired of the nasty remarks the other students made. Each time they saw me pass-by they would say, ‘Here comes the witch!’ They had all sorts of names for me. Even when I minded my own business and concentrated on studying some people would still say, ‘You think we don’t know that you use boloi’ (witchcraft). They giggled and gossiped at how I was going to use black magic to pass my Junior Certificate examinations,” narrated the pretty young girl from Themashanga.
The Form Three student, who has been boarding at the school for three years, had no problems until her third term this year. Then out of the blue a Form One student who had been performing badly at school blamed Lechani for her poor results, saying that she had been bewitched. The younger girl accused her of being a witch and visiting Tsamaya’s cemetery each night.
“Due to the girl’s crazy accusations and lies my life at school suddenly became a nightmare,” Lechani explained.
But despite telling the school authorities, nothing was done. She wrote a letter to her Head of Department telling her that she was unhappy about the teasing, but still no action was taken.
“No matter what I did students kept saying, “Don’t forget we know you are a witch.’ Even if I had a small misunderstanding or quarrelled with a fellow student my being a witch kept coming up,” she said.
“Then as if it that was not enough the mother to the Form One student who had been spreading the rumours, came to the school and shouted at me for reporting her daughter to the authorities. The woman asked why I was fighting her daughter. I told her I was not, but it was her child who was fighting me for reasons better known to her.”
Spitting out her words the accusing mother continued her tirade, threatening Lechani. “ She told me that when I looked at her dark complexion I should not assume she was a good person, but that her heart could be worse than her daughter’s.
“ What hurt me most was that no one wanted to listen to me, or give me a fair chance. My accuser was being favoured because her mother was a friend to our Head of Department, and she was the one who told her that I had written the letter. Each time I wanted to contact my mother to tell her what was going on, the teacher threatened me with expulsion or not allowing me to continue with my examinations.”
Matters took a drastic twist when Lechani and three of her friends were caught writing graffiti on the walls of the girls’ toilet. Lechani admits that it was probably not the most sensible thing to do under the circumstances, but says that she was just being rebellious.
“The Head of Department believed I was the ring leader, and once again she was so much on my case even though we had admitted our guilt to the other teachers, who were happy just to give us a warning after washing off the words we had written. But the Head of Department said that if my parents did not come to school, I would be expelled or not allowed to sit for my examinations.”
Confused, dejected and threatened with possible expulsion, on the Wednesday evening after extended study the slender young girl saw no way out but to end her short, youthful and promising life.
“It’s not that I really wanted to die, I just wanted help – someone out there to listen to me. I couldn’t tell mama because I was afraid of being expelled.
“During study time I got the idea of ending it all. When I got back to the hostel I asked my friends for some painkillers and managed to collect about 40 pills.
“I slept for a while then woke and drank the first 15 tablets. After drinking I felt nothing different. I decided to sleep for another 10 minutes to see what would happen. I woke again and drank the remaining pills – it was then that I felt some gases coming through my nose, and started to feel dizzy. I decided that all I could do was to lay down and wait to die.”
Closing her eyes for a moment as if reliving the experience, Lechani continues her story: “ In my drowsiness my friend came over to ask why I was sleeping. I told her I had drunk a lot of tablets but had lost count of how many. By the time she came back with the matron, I was vomiting, too weak to walk and know what was going on around me. I fainted as they were carrying me.
“The next time I woke up I was in hospital. It took me a while to realise that I was still alive – then I felt mama’s hand in mine and the tears came. I remember thinking that at last I had someone’s attention, and feeling somehow happy that I had not died.”
Lechani had been in hospital for almost ten days when she talked about her ordeal. In that time she had had her stomach pumped and had written her last six examination papers from her hospital bed.
Taking up the story her mother Tumelo, 33, a supermarket supervisor, said she was only told that she was wanted at her daughter’s school when the Head of Department passed by her workplace in Francistown.
“The woman told me that my daughter had scribbled insults on the girls’ toilet wall. She said the paint had peeled off when they washed the wall, so the school wanted me to pay for it to be repainted. I explained to her I was not able to come with her because I was on duty, but promised to come the next morning. To my surprise later that evening I received another call, this time from the matron, asking me to come to Tsamaya because my girl had drunk some tablets.
“While I was still looking for transport, another call from the school came through. The matron told me to meet them at Nyangabgwe Referral hospital because Lechani’s condition was deteriorating. When I saw my daughter she was only accompanied by the nurse, no one from the school was in sight. No one came along to tell me why my daughter had drunk the tablets or why she wanted to commit suicide,” related the troubled mother.
It was two terrifying hours before she was certain that her beloved daughter would pull through.
Then three days after her girl’s hospital admission, Tumelo’s relief turned to anger as she went to the school in search of answers.
“Neither the Deputy Head nor the Head of Department were able to give me satisfactory answers as to why my daughter had been driven to take such extremes. When I asked to be shown the toilet walls where Lechani had written, I was taken from one toilet to another but could see no marks, or any paint peeling off from the wall,” she said.
With no answers forthcoming from the school, Tumelo waited for her daughter to fully recover to tell her side of the story.
“From what she told me the school trampled on my daughter’s rights in failing to deal with the abuse and help my child. The people whom we trust with our children allowed her to be bullied by other children in the school and let another parent threaten her.
“This incident should be an eye opener to other parents to see to it that our children in boarding schools are treated with care by those people we have trusted as their guardians away from home. It is the reason why we have decided to tell our story here – not out of spite, but a genuine desire to sound a warning.
“I asked my daughter if she wanted to speak publicly about what had happened, and she agreed that the did. She wants her voice heard to help others who might be in the same situation. This is her story – I think she is very brave to tell it.”
The school in question was contacted for a comment. The headmistress referred all questions to the Ministry of Education. To date they have not replied to a questionnaire.