The bubbly gay teen was bullied at school and in his community (Photos: supplied)
A family has been left devastated by the suicide of 14-year-old Mpho Falithenjwa in Orange Farm, South of Johannesburg after he was bullied for being gay.
Mpho’s heartbroken sister, Thando, confirmed to MambaOnline that Mpho had taken his own life by poison on the second of June. She reveals that he left a letter saying his goodbyes to the family and describing how he wanted to be buried.
Thando is convinced that Mpho committed suicide as a result of being bullied over his LGBTQ identity. The teenager proudly described himself as “certified gay” on his Facebook profile.
“Yes that was the main reason, and maybe he became scared because people will judge him,” Thando says. “He was bullied and was being called names on the streets. There was an incident that happened at school where a classmate called him ‘isitabane’ [an anti-gay slur].”
In a Facebook profile post on 28 May, Mpho commented, “Def At My Lowest… But I’ll Surely Bounce Back” along with sad and crying emojis.
In another post, he wrote: “I have been discriminated [against] many times, both in the community and school. But I told myself that I’m strong and should not allow negativity to break me apart.”
Mpho urged those “who are afraid of coming out” to “be yourself and never live your life for anyone else.” He added: “Life is too short therefore enjoy who you are and what you do in life. Do not care what other people say… do not live a lie.”
“He was a very intelligent boy, forever smiling…”
LGBTIQ+ students often face discrimination and bullying in schools in South Africa. According to a 2016 report by OUT LGBT Well-being, 56% of LGBT South Africans surveyed said they’d experienced discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity while attending school.
Mpho’s family has been shattered by the tragic loss of the bubbly teenager. “He was a very intelligent boy, forever smiling. It was fun to be around him,” says Thando. “He liked to sing a lot and he was playful. Mpho was a gift indeed, very humble and reserved.”
If she were able to send a message to her brother, “I would say to Mpho, ‘you’re my never wanna lose’ because that’s what he used to tell me.” She believes that other LGBTQ teens who might also be facing bullying should “accept and love who they are because they are God’s creation.”
Mpho will be buried on Saturday, with mourners requested to wear “star white with a touch of rainbow”, just as he asked them to in his final letter.
While there is limited information in South Africa, The Trevor Project, an American LGBTQ teen suicide prevention group, states that “LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.” A 2020 Ghanaian study also found that LGBT adolescents reported a vastly higher rate of self-harm during the previous 12 months (44.6%) compared to heterosexual teens (16.2%).
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group runs the country’s only Suicide Crisis Line. If you are having thoughts of suicide please call 0800 567 567 at any time, day or night.