Report: Teachers accused of “gross misconduct” in “preventable” suicide


12-year-old bullying victim Sibusiso Mbatha was allegedly told to keep his “gay tendencies” out of school

A damning report on the tragic suicide of 12-year-old learner Sibusiso Mbatha has uncovered evidence of emotional and homophobic abuse by the deputy principal at his Gauteng school.

The Grade 6 learner at Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza took his own life on October 23, reportedly after being subjected to emotional trauma and bullying, allegedly by a teacher.

The Gauteng Department of Education, led by MEC Matome Chiloane, soon after initiated an investigation into the incident following promises made to the grieving family.

Findings of the Investigation

The investigation, summarised by the department on Thursday, addressed allegations of bullying, a physical altercation involving Mbatha, and accusations of negligence by educators.

The report revealed “substantial evidence supporting allegations of emotional and homophobic abuse by the deputy principal towards Mbatha, contributing to his distress.”

Additionally, the Head of Department and Mbatha’s class teacher were implicated for potential mishandling of the matter “by disregarding proper reporting procedures that could have prevented the incident.”

Both teachers and the principal were found to have failed in adhering to protocols, with the deputy principal showing a lack of communication, neglect of reporting procedures, and insensitivity. The investigation determined that “the confirmed allegations suggested that the learner’s public reprimand due to their sexual orientation significantly contributed to their distress.”

The principal, in particular, was criticised for mishandling the issue, attempting to shield the deputy, and prioritising other stakeholders over the School Governing Body (SGB). The SGB was deemed to have no role in this matter.

Possible Gross Misconduct Charges

The Gauteng Department of Education (GDoE) stated that the teachers, principal, and deputy principal may be liable for gross misconduct through acts of omission. The report recommends charges against the Head of Department and class teacher for flawed handling and failure to follow reporting processes.

The deputy principal is suggested for precautionary suspension and subsequent disciplinary proceedings for alleged ill-treatment, blasphemy, and homophobic abuse of the deceased.

The principal may face charges for neglecting duties, possibly protecting the deputy, and prioritising other stakeholders over the SGB. The recommendations underscore the need for proactive measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

Proactive Measures and Recommendations

The report advocates for informing the SGB and School Management Team (SMT) about similar incidents promptly. Training sessions aimed at enhancing governance and scholar management skills for SGB and SMT members are recommended. The GDoE should also collaborate with schools and SGBs to implement anti-bullying and homophobia policies, ensuring strict adherence.

Trauma counseling was strongly recommended for Mbatha’s family, friends, and classmates to help them cope with the severe trauma they have experienced.

Response from Education Advocacy Groups

OUT LGBT well-being, a group critical of education authorities for not creating an inclusive and safe environment, responded to the report. While acknowledging the findings, OUT’s Human Rights Coordinator, Sibonelo Ncanana, expressed concern that actions are once again recommended in reaction to a tragic and preventable incident.

“The education authorities already know what needs to be done to make schools safer for LGBTIQ+ pupils, including ongoing sensitisation training for all educators, and the implementation of the national Department of Basic Education’s own draft guidelines for the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ learners in schools,” said Ncanana. “More reports and promises are not enough – it’s time to take proactive action now before more lives are lost.”

The education department guidelines were leaked in the media in November last year, sparking a backlash from conservative religious groups and political parties, including the FF+ and ACDP, who were critical of what they termed “woke” guidelines.

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