Sandile Radebe was shunned and bullied in the township of KwaDambuza in Pietermaritzburg. He picked up the pieces and now councils children, teens and students who shared the same bullying horrors he did.
Radebe (26), is a student counsellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Born and raised in the township of KwaDambuza in Pietermaritzburg, he was subjected to bullying by his peers.
He was considered a “nerd” and subject to bullying at school. He also grew up in a household ruled with an iron fist. “The principles of indlela yokuyiphatha, awuyiphath’inom’ikanjani [You do not behave as you like] is one my grandmother instilled in me.”
Being male, he says that these values were both positive and negative. Regarding his interactions with his classmates and fellow peers in the township, he stood out like a sore thumb.
“I was brought up by my mother, aunt, and grandmother. My father was not present, even though I carry his surname.”
Radebe grew up without any friends; his grandmother insisted that she would not have a child who would go out to play: nabo skhotheni [a person who lacks direction and is associated with criminal acts].
Healing troubled minds
His mother, Nomusa, worked as a domestic worker; his grandmother, Sibongile Lwandle Masikane, was a pensioner; and his aunt, Thobile Masikane, was unemployed at the time. Radebe says he was socially conditioned to stay indoors, preferably in front of the television or with a book or magazine, so it wasn’t easy for him to get in trouble.
Granny’s guidance, a saving grace
He says that he might not have achieved his current level of success had it not been for his grandmother.
Sometimes when his mother Nomusa got home from work, she’d bring him magazines. He recalls his grandmother instructing him to read the papers and then translate them for her.
It was a difficult circumstance. His exposure to literature, however; enabled him to become more open-minded and curious about the world.
“I became somewhat of a nerd because I rarely interacted with other children, especially boys. As a result, I became a target of severe bullying, which severely damaged my self-esteem.”
He says that the effects of bullying are still apparent in his life today. He says he becomes reserved in a crowded space and reads the environment and energies around him.
‘Check in on your kids’
Radebe says that when he reported bullying to his grandmother, she would tell him, “I’ll take you to the bullies, and you need to beat them up.” That’s when Radebe gave in to the bullying; he wasn’t willing to fight.
His English teacher recognised his potential when he was in seventh grade. After dabbling in performance and drama studies, he immediately fell in love with the theatre.
Even on SABC, Hectic 99 would feature such material, he says. His focus gradually shifted to psychology, specifically child psychology. Although he later discovered that in South Africa, we do not have child psychologists, but rather educational psychologists.
Educational psychology on the rise
In 2015, Radebe enrolled at the University of KwaZulu Natal knowing that he wanted to study in a field that would allow him to help people heal, especially children who lack the language skills to express their feelings.
His undergraduate degree was in anthropology and psychology. And a year after that, he received his honours degree and then his master’s.
“The younger Sandile version, who was victimised by bullies, struggled academically, was rejected, and had low self-esteem, inspired me to pursue a career in educational psychology.”
The bullies at the elementary school level, according to Radebe’s observations, are a reflection of the cultural norms for social interaction with children.
He believes that “kids learn through imitation.”
“Children have a strong belief in their parent’s love for them and a strong love for each other. They interpret being bullied as a sign of love. They imitate and do it directly or indirectly.”
It all starts with the parents
Radebe says that adults must exercise caution before changing words, selecting appropriate vocabulary, and deciding on appropriate responses to situations. Children will mimic the actions and attitudes of the adults around them, whether these are positive or negative.
“The tragic part is that a single family’s actions can have far-reaching consequences for the entire community. To a large extent, children learn to speak and act like their parents.”
There is a good parenting lifestyle that does not involve profanity at children or physically punishing them, and some parents would benefit from going to counselling to learn more about this. “Some were bullied as children; they must heal in order to be good parents,” concludes Radebe.
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