A KwaZulu-Natal school held an interfaith prayer session on Friday after pupils fainted, screamed and cried uncontrollably.
In a statement posted on Mountview Secondary School’s official Facebook page, the principal described the mass hysteria, which took place on Thursday, as an “unfortunate incident”.
“After many learners started displaying unusual behavior patterns, mass hysteria started to spread to other learners. As a school, we had to ensure the safety of all learners. The affected learners were being attended to by staff members and parents of those seriously affected were contacted.
“An emergency evacuation ensured that all of our learners were at a safe point under the supervision of the staff,” the principal said.
The department of education was notified.
“We awaited instruction from the department in terms of the closure of the school as we had to ensure the learners’ safety. Parents and traditional leaders assisted in calming the situation. After further consultation, the school was closed at 1 pm,” the principal said.
Cycle tests, which were scheduled for Friday, were postponed.
The principal condemned the “sensationalizing of the incident on social media”.
“We need to work as a community to resolve these issues and assist our learners in overcoming these unfortunate incidents rather than contributing to mass hysteria.”
Videos shared on social media showed pupils rolling on the floor, fainting and praying loudly in the presence of teachers and security officers.
A 1999 study, after the first reported outbreak of the bizarre “illness”, at St John’s College, in Mthatha, suggests that outbreaks of hysteria in schools are more likely to be linked to stress than witchcraft.
The then head of the department of psychiatry at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, in KwaZulu-Natal, Prof Dan Mkize, conducted the study and found that St John’s pupils experienced stress and anxiety because of examinations and living conditions at the school’s hostel.
He found that their stress levels induced “pseudo-seizures”, a purely psychological behavior.