OUT LGBT Well-being is deeply saddened by the loss of another young life due to alleged homophobic bullying by a teacher, but also outraged that this abuse is still allowed to happen in South African schools.
According to media reports, 12-year-old Sibusiso Mbatha (pictured above) died from suicide on Monday 23 October after hanging himself in an outside toilet at his home. He was rushed to the hospital where he soon after passed away.
It’s been alleged that the Grade 6 pupil at Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza had earlier been told by a teacher to keep his “gay tendencies” at home. His family says he’d previously been bullied because of his sexual orientation at school.
Following Sibusiso’s tragic death, the Gauteng Department of Education invited members of the media to witness Education MEC Matome Chiloane offering his condolences to the grieving family. The young boy was laid to rest on Saturday.
It is essential to remember Sibusiso as more than a name in the headlines but as a beloved son and a vibrant human being. He’s been described as a bubbly and friendly child who was part of the school choir and participated in sports. “We have lost such a great soul,” commented one of his teachers. Sibusiso’s mother, Mpumi Mbatha, told News24 that she knew her son was gay from a young age and that she fully accepted and loved him just as he was.
OUT believes that any form of homophobia and transphobia cannot be tolerated at schools. “We are outraged that teachers, who are public servants entrusted to nurture and educate the youth, continue to impose their personal discriminatory and ignorant views on their learners. This prejudiced behaviour perpetuates generational homophobia and creates hostile and stigmatising environments for LGBTIQ+ youth,” says Sibonelo Ncanana, OUT’s Human Rights Coordinator.
OUT, which regularly receives reports of discrimination incidents at schools, argues that Sibusiso’s death must be a wake-up call for provincial and national education departments.
To start to rectify this crisis, a comprehensive approach is necessary. At a minimum, this includes sensitising all educators about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression on an ongoing basis. Additionally, school curricula should include affirming representations of diverse families and loving relationships, and there should be an acknowledgement of gender diversity, such as providing at least one gender-neutral bathroom per school.
The South African Human Rights Commission’s recent report on school uniforms also directs that learners must be allowed to express their true selves by choosing uniform items that align with their identity. A gender-neutral uniform option must also be made available.
“Public relations visits by education officials to the families of victims of school bullying are simply not good enough. Lives are at stake, and we know what needs to be done. The National Department of Education must stop dithering and immediately implement long-awaited mandatory guidelines to create safer and inclusive schools for all LGBTIQ+ learners,” says Ncanana.
OUT offers its deepest condolences to Sibusiso’s family, schoolmates, and community. This is a devastating tragedy that might well have been averted.