An investigation report into the suicide death of Sibusiso Mbatha, a Grade 6 learner from Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza, Ekurhuleni, revealed that the deputy principal swore and homophobically mistreated the deceased. It was also found that the Head of Department (HOD) and class teacher failed to handle the matter.
Mbatha was found hanging in the bathroom at his home last month after he was allegedly told by a teacher to leave ‘gayism’ outside the school premises when it was school time.
Gauteng MEC for Education, Matome Chiloane, released the findings and recommendations of the probe report during a media briefing on Thursday at the primary school.
He was joined by the Mbatha family, department officials, and BR Rangata Attorneys, an independent law firm that was appointed to investigate the learner's death.
Addressing the media, Baitseng Rangata, an attorney from the law firm, said Mbatha's death was subsequent to the bullying he experienced at the school.
Rangata said that on October 23, the day that Mbatha died by suicide, he had a physical altercation with a fellow learner at school, and they were taken to the school's reception for reprimanding.
At the reception, a teacher told Mbatha to leave his "gayism" outside the school. Rangata said, according to the report, given all the evidence, the deputy principal contributed to Mbatha's distress, which led to his death.
The report revealed substantial evidence supporting allegations of emotional and homophobic abuse by the deputy principal.
Rangata further stated that the teachers who had an encounter with the deceased, mishandled the matter and failed to follow proper measures and protocols of discipline.
"It is a requirement that when there is an incident at school, it needs to be filled in, and that did not happen. The boy was sent to the office, and none of those things were done," Rangata said.
She added that it was negligence and misconduct by the teachers.
According to the report, both teachers and the principal were found to have failed in protocol adherence due to the deputy principal’s lack of communication, neglect of reporting procedures, and insensitivity towards the issue.
Moreover, the School Governing Body (SGB) was not informed about the situation, and instead, prioritised other community stakeholders over them.
Considering the South African Schools Act's provisions, specifically Sections 60(1) and (2), the department, including teachers, the principal, and the deputy principal, were found to have been liable for gross misconduct through acts of omission.
The recommendations by the law firm emphasised that disciplinary action should be taken against specific individuals involved in mishandling the situation.
It is recommended that the head of department and class teacher, due to their alleged flawed handling and failure to follow reporting processes, be charged and undergo disciplinary hearings.
The deputy principal is recommended for precautionary suspension and subsequent disciplinary proceedings for alleged ill-treatment, blasphemy, and homophobic abuse of the deceased.
It is also recommended that the principal face charges for allegedly neglecting duties, possibly protecting the deputy, and prioritising other stakeholders over the School Governing Body (SGB), along with the reliance solely on written statements.
Furthermore, Chilaone welcomed the findings and recommendations by Rangata Attorneys and said they were committed to implementing them accordingly.
"No one must feel that their rights are undermined, compromised, or disrespected at our schools," he said.
* Anyone with thoughts of suicide can call Sadag 080 056 7567 or SMS 31393.