Still no answers for family of gay school pupil who died by suicide

15-year-old Tiro Moalusi took his own life in August 2022

15-year-old gay teen Tiro Moalusi took his own life after being humiliated in class

Seven months after he took his own life after allegedly being mocked by a student teacher for his sexuality, the traumatised family of gay 15-year-old Tiro Moalusi are still waiting for answers from the Gauteng Department of Education.

Tiro’s aunt, Masingita Khosa, who is representing the family, told MambaOnline that the family had not been contacted by anyone from the Department since September 2022, nor had they been informed of the outcome of a promised investigation into the student teacher’s actions.

This has left the late teenager’s devastated mother, Smangele Moalusi, unable to find any sense of closure in the tragic death of her son.

“They were supposed to tell Tiro’s mom about the investigation, they were supposed to update her, but they didn’t do so. Tiro’s mom is still hurting,” says Khosa. “We need answers. We need to know. We are in pain.”

Seven months of investigation with no answers

The PJ Simelane Secondary School Grade 9 learner was reportedly called a ‘sissy boy’ by a student teacher, in front of his laughing classmates, on 16 August 2022.

That afternoon, the heartbroken Soweto teen told a family member that it would be difficult for him to live in this world if people would always tease him about his sexuality. Hours later, he took his own life.

The Gauteng Department of Education Spokesperson Steve Mabona said at the time that the department had launched an investigation into the incident.

On September 2, 2022, the department stated that an investigating officer from the South African Council for Educators (SACE) had been appointed to probe the matter.

A frustrated Khosa recently reached out to MambaOnline for help in finding out what has happened to the investigation into the events at the school that led up to the teen’s suicide.

We contacted the Gauteng Department of Education inquiring about the status of the case.

Mabona responded with a terse statement disclosing “that the investigation is still ongoing”. He reiterated that: “It must also be noted that this matter was reported to SACE for necessary action.”

Tiro Moalusi and his mom, Smangele Moalusi, in happier times

Mabona listed several steps the department had taken to prevent a similar incident from happening again, including providing sensitisation on bullying and “gender-based” issues to the school’s staff, governing body, parents and pupils. It has also improved the induction of student teachers, he said.

MambaOnline’s questions about why it is taking so long to finalise the investigation and why the department has failed to keep the family informed on its status went unanswered.

When we reached out to SACE for an update on what action, if any, had been taken against the student teacher, we were told that they are powerless to discipline her as she is not registered with the council.

“In the absence of any such registration, [SACE] lacks the necessary jurisdiction to discipline such an individual,” said George Moroasui, Manager of Legal Affairs and Ethics at SACE.

If she does apply for registration “she will have to appear before the Fit to Teach Committee of the SACE and convince the committee as to why she thinks that she has to be allowed to be registered as a teacher,” Moroasui added.

“They want us to keep quiet and say it’s okay. No, we need justice for Tiro.”

Tiro’s aunt expressed disbelief that the Department of Education was seemingly unaware that SACE could not take any steps against the student.

“How could the department take the case to SACE knowing very well that the student teacher was not registered,” Khosa asks. “Why is it our problem that the student teacher wasn’t registered? She was teaching on government premises. They are trying not to take responsibility for Tiro’s death.”

Khosa believes that the department is dragging its feet in the hope that the matter will simply fade away. “They want us to keep quiet and say it’s okay. No, we need justice for Tiro,” Khosa says.

“They are failing us,” she continues. “It’s like Tiro wasn’t important to the Department of Education. It means that our children are not safe.”

MambaOnline has asked the department who was responsible for the deployment of the student at the school and if it is standard practice to place student teachers not registered with SACE. We have yet to receive a response.

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