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SOWETAN | Sibusiso’s bullies must be punished

12-year-old Sibusiso Mbatha.
12-year-old Sibusiso Mbatha.
Image: Supplied

Law firm HJW Attorneys estimates that 3,2 million learners are bullied at school in SA every year. Much of this behaviour occurs among peers.  

The bullying is verbal and sometimes physical. It is meant to exert power violently on those perceived to be different or vulnerable. Increasingly, however, we have seen incidents of bullying of learners by teachers. 

The latest incident involves 12-year-old Sibusiso Mbatha of Khehlekile Primary School in Thokoza, who tragically took his life last month following an incident where a teacher discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation. 

An independent report looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sibusiso has confirmed that it followed homophobic remarks made by a teacher at his school. 

Following an altercation with another learner the teacher is said to have told Sibusiso not to “bring his gayness into the school”. 

Our constitution, the Schools Act and various education policies that govern our school are clear that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation or any other form of identity. 

The teacher’s comments would have come out of either ignorance of these laws and policy frameworks or out of disdain for the rights of the learner. 

If he did not know, which is unlikely, we must ask questions about how it is that those who are entrusted with the wellbeing of our children, both physical and otherwise, can be wilfully ignorant of the code of conduct that governs them. 

If he did know and chose to abuse his power through prejudice and hate then he must be held accountable through the provisions of our law. 

Various pieces of research, including the Journal of Adolescent Health, have found bullying can be linked to increased risk of suicidal ideation and behaviour. 

This is why it is important for those in charge of our schools to take seriously their responsibility to create a safe environment that is responsive and intolerant of such discrimination. 

The report findings of this incident also revealed how the school principal mishandled the issue and attempted to shield the teacher from accountability. 

Herein lies behaviour that helps to perpetuate hate and prejudice in institutions of learning, thus undermining the rights of those experiencing such discrimination. 

It must not be allowed. 

We urge the department to ensure all involved in such acts of discrimination are held to account.

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