Probe into death of grade 6 pupil points to homophobic abuse at school
An investigation into the circumstances that led to a primary school pupil in Thokoza on the East Rand taking his own life shows evidence supporting allegations of emotional and homophobic abuse.
Gauteng education MEC Matome Chiloane on Thursday released the findings and recommendations of the investigation into the circumstances around the death of Sibusiso Mbatha, 12.
The grade 6 Khehlekile Primary School pupil took his own life last month, with his family saying he had been distraught after being bullied.
Rangata Attorneys was appointed by the department to investigate this. Among the allegations was that he was involved in a physical altercation with a fellow pupil. Slurs were also allegedly directed at him, including by a teacher.
According to the department, the investigation revealed substantial evidence supporting allegations of emotional and homophobic abuse by the school's deputy principal towards Mbatha, contributing to his distress.
“The investigation also noted that a head of department and Mbatha’s class teacher might have mishandled the matter by disregarding proper reporting procedures that could have prevented the incident,” read the report.
“The confirmed allegations suggested the learner's public reprimand due to their sexual orientation significantly contributed to their distress, highlighting a lack of due process and insensitivity across multiple parties at the school.”
It was also determined that the principal might have failed to fulfil his responsibilities by mishandling the issue, attempting to shield the deputy and relying solely on written statements from teachers and the head of department.
The principal allegedly neglected to inform the school governing body (SGB) about the situation and prioritised other community stakeholders over them.
“The SGB was deemed to have no role in this matter.
“The severe trauma experienced by Mbatha's family, friends and classmates was acknowledged.”
The report's recommendations include disciplinary action against specific individuals involved in mishandling the situation.
It is recommended that the head of department and class teacher, because of their alleged flawed handling and failure to follow reporting processes, be charged and undergo disciplinary hearings.
“The deputy principal is recommended for a precautionary suspension and subsequent disciplinary proceedings for alleged ill-treatment, blasphemy and homophobic abuse of the deceased.”
It also recommended the principal face charges for allegedly neglecting his duties, possibly protecting the deputy, and prioritising other stakeholders over the SGB with the reliance solely on written statements.
The recommendations also stressed the need for proactive measures, suggesting informing the SGB and school management team about such matters to ensure stakeholders are aware of incidents and their impact on affected pupils.
The report proposed counselling for Mbatha's family, friends and classmates to help them cope with the trauma they experienced.
The department was advised to work with schools and SGBs to implement anti-bullying and homophobia policies, ensuring strict adherence to such policies daily.
“We appreciate the findings and recommendations by Rangata Attorneys and are committed to implement them,” said Chiloane.
“This should serve as a deterrent for officials and stakeholders in our school communities. No-one must feel their rights are undermined, compromised or disrespected at our schools.”
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