His dad called him an idiot, his teacher called him an idiot, his classmate Pretty called him ‘dumb’. How much more could Leshole take?

After months of abuse from his alcoholic father, and possibly even years, Leshole exploded in class and did the unthinkable: he beat up his teacher, the one person who has supported him for the longest time. This is a boy who has struggled with self-esteem, who later showed potential of being one of the greatest in school. After being falsely accused of being the class thief and publicly shamed, Leshole was never really vindicated. In fact, he never healed from the wounds of the mockery he endured. But does that justify his actions? Was that explosive reaction the answer?

Growing up, we all had our individual struggles, especially during the teenage years. Our homes instil different values and ideals into us, and this often plays out in different ways, and this is what we saw with Leshole when he exploded and took out his bottled up anger on his teacher.

To some, after experiencing his anger, he might come across as a bully; when in fact he really is a troubled teenager. Big Boy hasn’t made things easy for him, further complicating his son’s life, which in turn affected his progress at school. All that Leshole knows is violence. That’s really the only language that he understands.

Thabo Mkhabela, who plays the role of Leshole, agrees. “Leshole is always on the defensive. Whenever he finds himself in a corner, he reacts violently because of how he was raised. Deep down, he is a good kid, who is calm. I think counselling is one of the things that will help Leshole heal. Personally, I would have never been able to crack this character and story if I hadn’t interacted with kids who had been in similar situations. Leshole represents many kids.”

One of those kids is twenty-four old Noxy MahZulu, who shared her story on the Skeem Saam Facebook page, saying she also suffered abuse at home. “My father used to do this to me, and it was really painful. In 2015 when I was in Grade 11, I was absent for a week. When I went back to school, I was told to go back home and ask my parent to accompany me. My dad refused, and by then, my marks had deteriorated badly. I had to tell my teachers what was going on, until my principal decided to intervene and convinced my late father to allow me to stay with her. She really saved my life, and I will always be grateful to her.” Noxy went on to pass her Grade 12, obtaining a bachelor pass.

Mrs Ntebaleng Nnesa,a teacher at Westridge High School in Johannesburg, said that it is important for learners to be vocal about such matters. She said when a learner commits an offence like Leshole’s, “The learner is retained in class until the matter has been reported to the head of the school and then the necessary steps are taken. As a teacher you are not allowed to and can never be physically aggressive to a learner, citing defence.

“Every school has their own code of conduct that they follow and depending on the attack. These rules have to be followed, but in the instance that a learner uses a weapon, it is grounds for immediate suspension or expulsion.”

Mrs Nnesa added that teachers are verbally abused almost daily by students especially when in high/senior schools. She adds: “Hence for many, teaching is a calling. You have to be emotionally and mentally prepared for such incidents as they do occur.”

The Department of Education has psychologists who are appointed to assist troubled and abused learners who have been identified by the school. Counselling is always encouraged. “There are some schools that also have psychologists in their buildings, who are available on a daily basis to assist learners who need therapy,” she said. Mrs Nnesa also stressed that teachers are also emotionally affected by such incidents, but are forced to maintain their professionalism and maturity. “We can only hope that Lesholes of this world rise above such incidents, and if they want to turn their lives around, it is possible.

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