Teacher sent suicide note by pregnant teen is fired for sexual relationship

06 March 2021 - 09:48
By Philani Nombembe
Free State teacher Mathandowane Nhlapo has been fired for having a sexual relationship with a pupil after the pregnant 16-year-old committed suicide.
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com Free State teacher Mathandowane Nhlapo has been fired for having a sexual relationship with a pupil after the pregnant 16-year-old committed suicide.

A teacher has been fired for having a sexual relationship with a teenage pupil who later committed suicide because she was heartbroken.

The Education Labour Relations Council held an inquiry after Mamko Kalake, 16, revealed her relationship with the teacher, Mathandowane Nhlapo, in suicide notes. She “committed suicide by swallowing her mother’s heart medication”.

Evidence revealed that she was heartbroken after she learnt Nhlapo “had had a girlfriend and that they were planning to build a future together”.

This week, arbitrator Shiraz Mahomed Osman ruled that Nhlapo should be dismissed after it was proved that he had a sexual relationship with Mamko.

The pupil committed suicide in January 2020 and Nhlapo was charged in October. This was after Mamko’s mother, Martha Mahlaba, notified the school. Nhlapo failed to attend the hearing in January despite promising to do so.

Mamko’s sister Fabia Kalake, her mother and her friend, referred to as Ms Y because she is a minor, testified. The education department submitted a number of documents to bolster its case against Nhlapo, including Mamko’s Facebook messenger conversation with her friend.

“At the outset, I must state that the evidence of both the employer’s witnesses is hearsay evidence, and not circumstantial evidence, as suggested by the employer,” Osman said in his finding.

“However, the circumstantial part of testimony lies in the fact that it was discovered when the deceased learner was admitted to hospital for a pill overdose, it was established that she was pregnant.”

Nhlapo who is known as Thons, was implicated in the suicide notes.

However, the circumstantial part of testimony lies in the fact that it was discovered when the deceased learner was admitted to hospital for a pill overdose, it was established that she was pregnant

“Ms Kalake, the deceased learner’s sister, testified for the employer that Mr Mathandowane Nhlapo (Thons) was indeed an educator at the school, which she and her sister attended,” said Osman.

“On January 18 2020, her sister, Ms Mamko Kalake, had committed suicide by swallowing her mother’s heart medication. They found the suicide notes, presented at the arbitration from the deceased learner’s school bag, written in her late sister’s handwriting.

“One was addressed to Ms Y, the deceased learner’s friend, while the second was addressed to Thons, the educator.

“She testified that the suicide note written to Ms Y indicated that she, Ms Y, must not disclose their relationships with the educators to anybody, after her death. That she should keep the secret till her death.

“She sought that Ms Y read the letter in private and deliver the letter addressed to Thons. In her suicide note addressed to Ms Y, the deceased learner indicated she was heartbroken, and therefore was taking her life.”

Fabia testified that her younger sister addressed a suicide note to Nhlapo “implicating him in a relationship with her”. She found the notes in her younger sister’s school bag when she intended to return textbooks.

“She was grateful for having a ‘very great thing’ with Thons. The deceased learner was leaving Thons so that he could have a great life without her,” Osman said in his finding.

“She mentioned that Thons had told her ‘I love you Kalake’. Apparently, she was not convinced that it was the truth. The deceased learner had apparently become aware that Thons had a girlfriend and that they were planning to build a future together.

“She had told Thons that if he ever hurt her, she would kill herself. She admitted that she was aware she was not supposed to have a relationship with him, she told him.

“The suicide note went on to inform Thons that she thought she had a future with him and dreamed that they could have had a family together. She thought that Thons would now be better off without her. Indeed, she had loved him. She ended her note to Thons with: ‘From the person you’ve been playing with all along’.”

The suicide note went on to inform Thons that she thought she had a future with him and dreamed that they could have had a family together

Osman said the notes “suggest that there was indeed an intimate relationship between the deceased learner and Thons, the educator, who had broken her heart by informing her that he had had a girlfriend. She suggests that she wanted to have a family with him, thus alluding to her pregnancy. But when she realised that Thons had a girlfriend, she decided to take her life.”

Osman said the Facebook messenger conversations submitted to the inquiry suggested Mamko and her friend had relationships with teachers.

Mahlaba also took the witness stand. “[She] testified that her daughter would often refuse money from her and that her late daughter would tell her that she was provided for by Thons,” Osman said.

“Indeed, that had stopped after she informed her daughter of her disapproval of being provided for by Thons. After she had lost her daughter she took the suicide notes to the school and the police.”

Osman found that the evidence proved wrongdoing by Nhlapo.

“I am persuaded that the totality of circumstances weigh against the employee and in all probability the employee had made the deceased learner pregnant,’’ he ruled.

“For the reasons above, I find [Nhlapo] guilty of having a sexual relationship with the deceased learner. There is no discretion for the arbitrator to consider any other alternative sanction short of dismissal. Therefore, dismissal is the statutory sanction.”

There is no discretion for the arbitrator to consider any other alternative sanction, short of dismissal

In a similar incident, a grade 7 boy at a Cape Town school attempted suicide after being groomed by a teacher who sent him indecent photographs. Education Labour Relations Council arbitrator Bella Goldman ruled that the teacher, Gino Rhoda, should be summarily dismissed.

Rhoda pleaded guilty to misconduct and begged Goldman not to fire him, saying he was willing to have therapy to deal with a problem that stemmed from childhood trauma.

But Goodman said in her finding: “Given the position the educator occupies, and the damage that was done and that can be done should he repeat such behaviour, the only sanction which can be applied is dismissal.”

TimesLIVE