Bullies? I’ve got zero tolerance for them and their behaviour. Period.

I remember that day very clearly. I had just started high school as a Grade 8 learner, so naturally, I was eager and excited. I entered the girls’ bathroom, and two girls stood almost as if waiting to see who would enter next. I figured this because they stared me down as I walked in.

I entered the cubicle, and when I came out, I was met with something I never thought I would experience. To get me out, they swore at me continuously while laughing mockingly.

And, as we all know, with bullies, one time is never enough to fulfil their satisfaction; recurring occasions of intimidation followed this, and it was hell.

What is bullying? According to the Queensland government, it is “behaviour that is meant to be hurtful, that targets a person or group of people that happens more than once, and embarrasses, threatens or intimidates”.

It’s a bigger deal than you might think, with 3.2 million South African students dealing with it yearly. And get this: most young people who get bullied— two-thirds of them—don’t even report it. They’re worried that speaking up won’t change anything.

There are real-life stories that show how bad it can get. Like Lufuno, only 15 years old, who went to Mbilwi Secondary School. She was bullied so badly—there was even a video of her getting hit—that she ended up taking her own life. Then there’s Brian Ndlovu, a 9th grader from Queens High School, who was bullied into drinking rat poison at school and didn’t survive the day.

I was luckier. I told my mom, who acted swiftly and got the principal involved, who then dealt with them in the manner she saw fit. The relief of someone taking action and standing up for me in ways I didn’t have the strength to was there. However, the fear and feeling of inferiority stung for a while. It was such a debilitating feeling to question whether something was wrong with me constantly.

I had a heart-to-heart with my niece, Noluthando, who’s 16 and has had her own rough ride with bullying in high school. She opened up about her experience, “I’ve been picked on before, targeted for my size and my nature – you know, being the kind girl who’s always up for helping out. But some people just twisted that, using it against me.” She shared how this whole mess hit her hard, “It chipped away at who I am, dragged my self-esteem through the mud, and got me to a place where I’d just shut everyone out.”

But she didn’t keep it to herself. She turned to her grandmother and teachers, who worked together to address what happened.

Because of what happened to her, she says she now advises victims on what to do and how to navigate their way through everything. If your situation resembles Noluthando’s, but you still need support at school, feel free to speak to a higher authority. Find an adult you trust and ask them to help you.

Let’s normalise not leaving the bullies themselves out of the conversation; people being bullied shouldn’t be the ones to make things better; they’re not the ones with the problem. Let’s address them so they can be the ones to correct their behaviour. My niece, Noluthando, has always said, “Bullying people won’t make you a better person”, and she didn’t stutter!

So, to all the bullies out there, find ways to deal with the void you are trying to fill by harming others; bullying others will not help you.

If you’ve faced or currently are facing bullying, it’s essential to understand that it was never your fault. Bullying reflects more on the person doing it than the one receiving it; often, those who inflict pain are dealing with their struggles. Remember, you are not alone. It’s important to talk about what you’re going through. Reach out to someone you trust—a family member, a friend, a teacher. There’s always someone who will listen and offer the support you need.

For counselling or assistance, reach out to 0800 055 555 (Childline South Africa), 0861 322 322 (National Counselling Line), SADAG counselling 0800 567 567 (toll-free counselling between 8 am and 8 pm) or their suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567.

Tell us: What are your experiences of bullying?

Find Fundza’s course on bullying – Are you a bully on the page here.