The Video Went Viral

Once it became available in the public domain, everybody seemed to have an opinion about the video showing the ‘mob-lynching’ of a girl student by her classmates in a pre-voc school.

I am therefore almost forced to have an opinion too, for whatever it’s worth, on the subject and others that similarly go ‘viral’.

To start with, the new terminology – going viral. How appropriate is it? In former times we would perhaps have used the expression ‘spreading like wildfire’, but then wildfires are eventually contained within a land mass and cannot cross the seas to go round the world. And also, they take time to spread, several days or weeks, and immediately firefighters swing into action to try and contain them.

Not so with electronic information. Thanks to the latest audiovisual techniques and the internet, as well as the new tools and software available at the touch of an icon on a smartphone or an iPad, it is available and accessible to practically anyone anywhere, since these devices are so ubiquitous what with their affordable prices and the facilities for payment that are offered. So the analogy with the spread of a virus is more correct, though not quite, because although it is true that the viruses cross borders — without the need for a passport! – still they do take some time to go global, as the example of the now well-known AH1N1 pandemic influenza demonstrated. On the other hand, there is nothing to stop or contain the dissemination of the information once it starts being relayed over the bandwidths, acquiring as it were a life of its own.

Having only recently got on to the Facebook circuit – which I use rather sparingly nevertheless – I got the video on my screen even before it was aired on national television and the written media, by which time it was already being talked about by different people. And the issue came up between me and a friend of mine, who is a retired headteacher, and therefore knows only too well about children and students. Further, he is very active as a member of an NGO dealing with victims of violence, and thus has additional expertise in the matter, having even won a prize at a regional conference on the issue, held in South Africa a couple of years ago.

And his words still ring in my ears. ‘You know, doc,’ he said, ‘when I saw that video I was not only shocked but felt a pain at the language used by these young girls, let alone at the sight of their repeatedly beating this child, and pulling her hair on and on…’ I told him that I had similar feelings too, and that I was not only aghast but could not understand this phenomenon which was like a mob-lynching.

One can conceive such an act when a group of people are assaulting someone who’s a stranger to them – but here, these are classmates for heaven’s sake! They sit and study together, probably have had outings together at some stage. What then can explain that level of savagery against one of theirs? Only they know.

As if this was not enough, within a few days another similar case of mass assault took place, again in a girls’ school. This time it was against a student who had reported to the school authorities that a group of her friends had been indulging in smoking cigarettes in the school premises. But this incident went even further in terms of injury, because the victim has had a fracture of her forearm bone. In the picture shown, she was shown with the arm in a plaster and her face, covered by a headscarf, bent down, probably because of the pain.

Probably all of us must have memories of scuffles during our schooldays, even fights perhaps. But these were between individuals. I personally do not recall any incident of mob-lynching in the manner that we have seen taking place among these two groups – and, what is even more, these are girls. They are presumed to be less inclined to violence, unlike boys who are supposed to be more volatile. But perhaps we have to revise our notions now, with these flagrant examples. Are they but the tip of an iceberg?

What an irony that these two episodes should almost coincide with the anniversary of the student revolt of May 1975, which is being duly remembered. The contrast is all the more pronounced because that fight was motivated by more noble causes which had been flagged in serious debates and discussions in several colleges across the country. Besides, there had been spontaneous support and adherence to the common cause, and which eventually led to the march that took place on that 20 May 1975.

Those who faced the brunt of the police assault at Grand River North West did not do so in vain, for their bravery paved the way for free education to be established in the country. They and all their peers were genuine heroes who deserve to be saluted. Was their demonstration a proto-Occupy Wall Street movement?

The unfortunate episodes involving these two groups of girl students are, sadly, not about heroines but about delinquents who, at such a young age, are having to be hauled up before the justice system. At a time when they should have been focusing on their future, making full use of the opportunities and facilities that are open to them, and recognizing the efforts and sacrifices that their parents are making to provide for their needs and their future welfare.

We can only pray, and hope that they do their mea culpa and take cognizance of the wrong and harm they have done not only to their friend but to themselves as well. And decide on a new course where they will shun violence and risky behaviours that can mar their bodies and their lives forever.

The public authorities can only do so much. The greater responsibility lies with the parents and family, and of course with the children themselves. They may be young, but are not so young that they cannot understand reason. And if they refuse to, then alas they have to face the consequences for their own future.


* Published in print edition on 22 May  2015

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