South Africa: Deputy Principal Suspended After Probe Names Him in Suicide of 12-Year-Old Gauteng Learner

Three other teachers named in report are still at the school

A deputy principal named in a damning report into the suicide of 12-year-old Gauteng learner Sibusiso Mbatha has been suspended. But three other teachers also named in the report are still at the school, including the principal.

Sibusiso, a grade 6 learner at Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza, died on 23 October.

The results of an investigation by BR Rangata Attorneys in November, commissioned by the Gauteng Department of Education, have not been made public. But GroundUp has seen a copy of the report, which says the behaviour of Deputy Principal Simon Dhlamini drove the child to take his own life.

The report said Dhlamini had made homophobic remarks to Sibusiso after an altercation between him and another learner. Dhlamini had told Sibusiso that he could not be gay at school and should leave his “gayism” in the township.

In a message to his mother Sibusiso had said he wanted to kill himself because of the bullying from Dhlamini. The message has been seen by GroundUp.

The investigators wrote in the report: “It is the culmination of the bullying that Sibusiso suffered in class and the unfair, irresponsible reprimand that he endured in the hands of the deputy principal that drove him to opt to take his life.”

“We find that allegations that Mr Dhlamini ill-treated, blasphemed and homophobically abused the deceased has merit. We further find that these utterances caused the death of the learner has merit as the deceased was subjected to verbal and very public reprimand of his sexual choice and orientation.”

They found that Dhlamini had previously bullied Mbatha and according to his mother had told the child that he had a head “like Mangethes bus” (the local school bus).

They recommended that “Mr. Dhlamini be charged by putting him on precautionary suspension and a charge sheet be served on him to appear before a disciplinary enquiry.”

While Dhlamini is named as the main culprit in the report, three other teachers are also named: the principal, Mandla Ncanwya; the head of department, Jabulile Goodness Dhlamini; and the class teacher, Zandile Aubrey Ngwenya. The report said Dlamini and Ngwenya had “failed to follow the processes of reporting and did not treat the matter with the necessary attention it needed.”

“We recommend that the two educators be charged and/or subjected to disciplinary hearing,” the investigators said.

They also recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the learner who had an altercation with Sibusiso, for “serious misconduct” and against the principal, Ncanwya, for failing to protect Sibusiso and breaching the Employment of Educators Act. The principal was found to have lied in his interview saying he was not present on the day of the incident, when the CCTV video footage showed him to be there, the report said. “He seemed less interested, and to some extent condoned the behaviour of his deputy principal and protected him.”

The report frequently cites and quotes the South African Constitution. “It is important to take note that section 28(1 )(d) of the Constitution provides the child, regardless of his/her colour, creed, gender, social status, the right not to be maltreated, neglected, abused or degraded,” it states. Later it says, “No provision in the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, as stated in section 2, allows anyone to deny gay and lesbian people … in an institution, including school, the right to be who they are.”

Xolani Mkwende, spokesperson for Education MEC Matome Chiloane , told GroundUp that only Dhlamini had left the school. “Everyone is still reporting at school, except the Deputy Principal who was directly fingered by the report. The Deputy is reporting at the district.”

“He is on precautionary suspension.”

The family has filed a civil case against the department, which is yet to reach the courts, their attorney Claryn Ferreira said. She said there is merit in the civil case because the report states that the school is liable because the family suffered “emotional shock and the loss of the son”, and that the department is liable for gross misconduct.

Sibusiso’s aunt Khanyisile Shongwe said the child’s mother, Mpumelelo Mbatha, “is not coping at all … She still struggles to sleep without sleeping medication. She hasn’t been able to go to the bathroom where he hanged himself”.

“Everything triggers her. She is really not okay.”

Asked whether the school had a policy to deal with bullying, Mkwende said: “The school is required to recite the preamble of the Constitution. The school has a Code of Conduct policy which is clear to both parents and learners which they sign to respect the dignity of other learners. Similarly, there are employment contracts for teachers. This addresses both bullying and homophobia.”

But according to the investigation report, Rachel Mazibuko, chairperson of the School Governing Body, had “confirmed that the school does not have a policy that deals with bullying. Furthermore, although the school has a learner’s code of conduct, it has not been updated for over two years.”

Mkwende also confirmed that the school has no guidance counsellor, only what is called “learner support”.

Asked to comment on the BR Rangata report, Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department could not comment because the report was “subject to court processes”.

We asked the Department of Education if we could get a direct response from Mr Dhlamini but were told: “We speak on behalf of the department and employees as such he cannot comment.”

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