Fifteen-year-old gay teen Tiro Moalusi took his own life after being humiliated in class, allegedly by a teacher
Tuesday 16 August began just like any other day for Soweto gay teen Tiro Moalusi. He woke up, went to the PJ Simelane Secondary School and attended his usual classes. But one class in particular would become a turning point in the 15-year-old’s life.
It was during a Tswana language lesson that a student teacher leading the class decided to make a “joke” at Tiro’s expense. She allegedly called the teen “sis bhuti” (sissy boy) in front of his classmates, with the intention of mocking him over his sexuality.
When the other learners laughed at the embarrassed Tiro, it’s alleged that the teacher joined in to laugh along with them, only adding to his humiliation.
Speaking to MambaOnline, Tiro’s aunt Masingita Khosa revealed that Tiro went back to the teacher later that day to confront her about what she’d said but she allegedly laughed him off. It’s believed that Tiro also reported the incident to his class teacher.
When the school closed for the day, the deeply upset Tiro went to visit another aunt and told her what happened.
“He was crying, he was very emotional. He didn’t want his mom to know that he had been humiliated,” says Khosa. “He said how heartbroken he was and how it’s going to be difficult for him to live in this world if people will always tease him about his sexuality.”
While still at his aunt’s home, Tiro made the tragic decision to ingest rat poison in a bid to take his own life. Not yet feeling any effect, he then tried to hang himself. His aunt was able to stop him but had no idea that he’d already poisoned himself.
“Tiro started vomiting but by the time my sister went to the toilet to find him he had already collapsed,” says Khosa. The teenager was rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead.
Khosa describes Tiro as a loving child who was full of life and enjoyed listening to music. “He was gay and we accepted him as the family. And the community accepted him. We were happy he was gay and we loved him.”
When asked what career Tiro saw himself following, Khosa says: “He wanted to be a doctor… but we lost our doctor.”
She, Tiro’s mother, and other family members went to the school the following day to get answers to make some sense of what had happened. Khosa says they were sorely disappointed. She alleges that the principal claimed that he did not know how to get hold of the student teacher, nor which educational institution she came from.
“We want to see the teacher,” explains Khosa. “We don’t want to hurt her, but we want to ask her what happened and what she was thinking. We are trying to find closure and justice for Tiro.”
Increasingly frustrated, the family are intending to sue the school and the education department over their loss. They’ve also tried to open a case at two police stations but have found officials to be unhelpful. The family has for now decided to focus on laying Tiro to rest. “After the funeral, we will do what we need to do,” says Khosa.
Hector Thabobang, the provincial administrator for Cosas (Congress of South African Students) has been assisting the family. He alleges that other LGBTQ+ students at the school have also faced discrimination.
“He is not the only student in that situation. Currently, the school is not a safe space. I’ve spoken to other students who say they feel threatened within the school premises. Students must be able to learn without any fear,” says Thabobang.
The Gauteng Education Department confirmed earlier that it had launched an investigation into the incident, although the family has yet to be contacted by the department.
The funeral of Tiro Moalusi will take place on Thursday at the Slovoville Cemetery.
If you are having thoughts of suicide please call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 at any time, day or night.