Sibusiso’s suicide: deputy principal’s homophobia blamed

On the Monday morning of October 23, a cheerful Sibusiso Mbatha woke up and went to buy a few items for his home. When he returned from the shops, he kissed his mother on the cheek and told her to come eat her food before it got cold.

The 12-year-old Sibusiso went to school and later in the afternoon he was involved in an altercation with another pupil. Afterwards, the school deputy principal reprimanded him and told him to “leave his gayness outside the school gate”.

This is according to findings presented by attorney Baitseng Rangata from independent law firm BR Rangata Attorneys, which was appointed by the Gauteng education department two weeks ago to investigate the circumstances that led Sibusiso to commit suicide.

On Thursday, Gauteng education department MEC Matome Chiloane along with Rangata presented the findings of the investigation at Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, where Sibusiso attended.

In her findings, Rangata said the deputy principal’s homophobic utterances towards Sibusiso caused him to commit suicide.

‘Do all those things outside the school gate’

“There was a [physical] altercation in class with pupil. The boys were sent to the reception and that is when one of the teachers met up with him (Sibusiso) and in his (deputy principal) own version he concedes that he reprimanded the boy (Sibusiso). The evidence comes out very clear that he was reprimanded for calling him (other pupil) names and he (Sibusiso) must do all those things outside the school gate,” said Rangata.

“There is substance and merit into complaints that the deputy principal incited and contributed to the incident itself. There is also merit that teachers who had an encounter with Sibusiso did not handle the matter properly and in terms of the protocols and processes of discipline.

“The allegations of emotional abuse and homophobic abuse against the pupil [Sibusiso] by the deputy principal are substantiated by the evidence given to us through questioning and interviewing of all the witnesses,” said Rangata.

Rangata said the deputy principal ill-treated, blasphemed and homophobically abused Sibusiso.

“Those allegations have merit and the evidence we have concurs with that allegation. We found that the utterances caused the deceased to commit suicide. The deceased was subjected to verbal and public reprimand of his sexual choices and orientation,” said Rangata.

She also said Sibusiso’s class teacher and the school’s head of department (HOD) did not handle the altercation properly.

“We found that the process used by one of teachers, who is the HOD, and the class teacher in handling the matter when the child was having the altercation was not handled properly,” she said.

Principal also failed pupil

Sibusiso’s aunt Khanyisile Shongwe burst into tears as Rangata read the findings.

Rangata also said the school principal failed to deal with the matter properly as well.

“The deputy principal failed to inform the principal of the situation and did not complete the school incident form to record the incident. He failed to deal with the situation in a sensitive and dignified manner.  

“The principal failed to uphold his duties as prescribed, and he neglected to deal with the issues properly. He failed in letting the school governing body know of the incident,” said Rangata.

Rangata recommended that the deputy principal be placed on precautionary suspension and be subjected to a disciplinary hearing for his homophobic utterances towards Mbatha.

She said the principal, class teacher and head of department should also be subjected to disciplinary proceedings for failing to follow proper procedures of reporting the altercation incident.

“Those teachers should be charged and subjected to disciplinary proceedings for the flawed handling of the matter and failure to follow process of reporting.

“The deputy principal should be charged by putting him on precautionary suspension and disciplinary hearing for ill-treating, blaspheming and homophobically making utterances that led to the death of the pupil. The principal should be charged since he failed to uphold his duties as prescribed to him and neglected to do his duties properly,” said Rangata.

Chiloane said the department welcomes the recommendations and will finalise the disciplinary processes within three months.  

Findings vindicate grieving family

Family in “We appreciate the findings and recommendations by Rangata Attorneys and are committed to implement them accordingly. Indeed, this should serve as a deterrent for all officials and stakeholders in our school communities. No one must feel that their rights are undermined, compromised or disrespected at our schools,” said Chiloane.

Shongwe said the family is vindicated by the findings but pained at the same time.

“This is a confirmation of the suspicion we had from the beginning. The report confirms what was glaring. We feel like we are reliving what happened on the 23rd [October 23]. We thought we dealt with the matter but we have not. No one deserves to bury their children. We are hurting,” said Shongwe.

Sibusiso hung himself in the outside toilet of his home three weeks ago. 

Meanwhile, Nosipho Nkosi, the aunt of Sibusiso, told Sunday World a few days after Sibusiso’s death that a teacher who allegedly bullied Sibusiso the day before his suicide visited their home to gloat.

The teacher, Sonny Dlamini, whom the family said the boy had complained about on numerous occasions, allegedly told the family that he had warned him about being gay.

“I told him to leave his gayness,” Nkosi alleged that Dlamini told the grieving family.

Nkosi said the visit devastated Sibusiso’s mother Mpumi Mbatha, who was already blaming herself for not taking action when her son complained about “Sir Dlamini”.

Describing Sibusiso as a cheerful and outspoken child who identified with the LGBTQI+ community, Nkosi said the family loved him as he was.

“He was an overachiever who thought he would win the likes of Sir Dlamini by outperforming academically,” said Nkosi.

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