Sibusiso Mbatha, a 12-year-old boy from Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, has died by suicide following what appears to be a case of homophobic bullying involving a school teacher.
The Gauteng Department of Education confirmed the heart-wrenching incident. The grade 6 learner from Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza, Ekurhuleni, was found hanging in his family’s bathroom on Monday evening.
Screenshots of Mbatha’s WhatsApp messages, broadcast by eNCA News, revealed the child’s state of mind. The boy messaged his mother, writing: “Mama bye, see you in heaven. Love you.” He went on say: “I want to kill myself because of bullying I get from my teacher…”
It’s alleged that the teacher had told Mbatha to “leave his gay tendencies outside the school”, and that this was not the first bullying incident faced by the boy.
“A 12-year-old killed himself because of an adult who is supposed to be a professional, who insulted the child because of who he is,” the boy’s aunt, Khanyisile Shongwe told eNCA News.
“His name is Sibusiso Mbatha. He is not just a learner from Khehlekile Primary School. He is a child who was loved by his parents,” she said.
Gauteng Department of Education promises to investigate
The Gauteng Department of Education invited the media to witness Education MEC Matome Chiloane visit the family on Thursday to show his support and personally offer his condolences.
“Losing a child is one child too many, especially in the manner that we’ve lost the child,” said the MEC. He acknowledged that “as the department, we should be doing more to ensure that we provide the support and necessary conditions of learning for kids to feel comfortable.”
The department announced that an internal investigation to probe the allegations of bullying at the school has been launched. Chiloane also promised that a separate parallel investigation would be set up through an independent law firm to get to the bottom of what transpired.
“At the centre of the report is to investigate those that have done wrong and those that should be held accountable. But lastly, and more importantly, is the recommendation that will assist the department to ensure that such an incident never happens again,” said Chiloane.
The Gauteng Department of Education, along with officials from the Gauteng Department of Social Development, is offering psycho-social support and counseling services to those affected.
Resistance to making schools safer for LGBTIQ+ learners
Many South African schools remain hostile environments for LGBTIQ+ learners. These children often endure bullying and are sometimes sent home for wearing school uniforms that reflect their gender identity or expression.
Addressing these challenges is vital to create inclusive educational spaces, yet there has been considerable backlash against proposed guidelines that aim to make South African schools safer for LGBTIQ+ learners.
Earlier this year, following the suicide of several LGBTIQ+ teens who also faced homophobic bullying, civil society groups insisted that the guidelines are necessary to ensure “safe, equitable, and socially just learning environments for all learners, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.”
Keneilwe Zulu, Access Chapter 2 Legal Unit Manager, told MambaOnline that the latest tragedy could have been avoided.
“This is a call to strengthen safety measures in schools. Queerphobic discrimination in schools continues to be far too common for a nation that prides itself on an inclusive Constitution,” she said. Zulu asserted that the incident not only deprived the young boy of the right to non-discrimination but also the right to life.