I was beginning to despair while reading the Facebook comments on the article I wrote last week.
It was about the video of the 13-year-old boy who attacked a female teacher in front of the rest of his primary school peers.
Some commented as if I confirmed that he has a mental illness or a learning disability.
I was very clear that none of that is a known fact. My comments were anecdotal and based on my own experience, what I saw in the video and a comment I read on the initial story.
Now that that is out of the way, let me explain why I was so disappointed.
The overwhelming sentiment seems to be that he needs and deserves “n goeie pakslae”, “a good bleddie hiding” and so much more, because “he is a monster”.
Some commented on how well the boy is dressed – “net daai tekkies alleen”, as if well-dressed people can’t also suffer from mental illnesses, or would you have been more open-minded if his appearance was that of neglect?
Perhaps he is spoiled, yes, as some suggested, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have issues.
Someone commented on the teacher’s supposed questionable private life, as if that has anything to do with the matter.
Others compared the boy’s possible circumstances with their own and concluded that his behaviour doesn’t gel with their world view.
How can we so completely ignore the constellation of differences between individuals and how they handle situations?
Is it not obvious that the way mental illness manifests takes different forms for different people?
It is that complete and utter disregard for mental illness that bothers me the most.
Moving away from this incident and speaking generally, there seems to be a blanket refusal to even entertain the existence of mental illness, highlighted by comments like: “Ons moet ophou die goet mooi name gee.”
It’s not us that sanitises it with lovely names. These are realities, backed by facts that are well-documented and which many of our people suffer from.
Denying it doesn’t make it disappear and stigmatising it only makes it a lot worse for families having to struggle with it in silence.
The point is, in this boy’s case, something is wrong; whether it is a mental illness, or a mere behavioural problem.
But some sanity did manage to shine through, as not all the comments came from a place of ignorance.
Genevieve Minen wrote: “Thank you for your very brave and well informed comment. I know sometimes it’s easier to scroll to avoid drama but our communities need to come to this level of understanding. We blame the dysfunctional children, who become dysfunctional adults, but fail to see our own role as parents, family members, community and the role society plays in building a dysfunctional child. We’re quick to say hit him, lock him up, etc.; but slow to say, let’s actually work through these difficulties you are facing in a meaningful way, so that you do not have to behave in this way.”
Melany Kuyk also urged some empathy: “We live in a society where we hide and refuse to accept the fact that there’s mental disorders, ADHD, ADD and we are so in denial. All we as adults can say is ‘Die kind is stout, die kind need a pak, dus die ouers en en en … Our people need to be exposed to more workshops about problems like this and not sweep it under the carpet. There’s nothing wrong if you have a disorder in the times we are living. It can be treated. Thank you Bobby Brown for sharing this article.”
And lastly, the comment from Florence Reddy shows the sort of compassion and understanding that is in in short supply: “That boy requires professional help, he is crying out for help, hence his volatile behaviour. He is in need of love and affection. I feel sorry for him. Lots of comments saying he needs to be beaten up, that's not going to solve the problem. There are deeper issues worrying this little boy. I just want to hug him and tell him that he is loved.”