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SARHC probing circumstances that led to death of Soweto pupil allegedly mocked by teacher

24 August 2022

The SA Human Rights Commission is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of a 15-year-old boy in Soweto after a student teacher allegedly mocked his sexuality.

Tiro Maolusi, who died by suicide, was a pupil at PJ Simelane Secondary School in Soweto.

IOL reported he was allegedly called a "sissy boy" in front of the class.

Moalusi's aunt, Masingita Khosa, told the publication he was upset when he returned home from school.

SAHRC Gauteng head Buang Jones said: "Following the media reports and [on] the basis of what we have read, we have decided as a commission to initiate investigations."

He added Constitutional provisions, such as Section 28, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to an education that emphasised the child's best interests, were still being disregarded.

Buang said the SAHRC's investigation would seek to establish whether there was a connection between the pupil's death and what allegedly happened.

"We hope that those who express derogatory and hostile sentiments against the LGBTI learners will face the full might of the law," he added.

The human rights manager, Lerato Phalakatshela, from OUT, an LGBTQ+ organisation in Pretoria, raised concerns about the number of times Life Orientation teachers have failed to educate pupils about sexuality and sexual orientation.

"It's not to say teachers are unaware of the LGBTQI community. Research shows how most teachers skipped through a chapter or section about sexuality or sexual orientation.

"It's either they are homophobic, transphobic, biased about it or uncomfortable, or it could be that they don't want to talk about it for many reasons.

"It is therefore important for us to educate these teachers of the importance of these chapters and how they cannot just skip through it, and that they are comfortable and well equipped to teach about this in school," he said.

Phalakatshela added the news of the Soweto pupil's death came as a shock as they had not encountered a case like this in a long time.

"There was a case about four years ago of four lesbian girls in their teens from a school in Soshanguve in Pretoria who came to us and shared how they were told not to wear pants, and they should behave like girls.

"We get emails online about children who say they are bullied by teachers or learners, sometimes both. It happens quite a lot, and it's not something new, however, this [incident of the Soweto pupil] was extreme," he said.

In Phalakatshela's view, these incidents stem from humiliation, being misunderstood, and the feeling of not belonging.

"It's not easy being a young gay person and being faced with so much and thinking that you are alone because you have not seen the world beyond high school.

"School becomes everything to you because you spend most of your time there. If you feel like you are not being accepted or humiliated, it can either depress one, make them anxious about going to school, and sometimes lead them to do drugs or even suicide," he said.

"It becomes easier when you are able to tell your teacher because they are your guardians during the day and are able to provide you with the support."

Phalakatshela added teachers might not offer that support and other pupils might feel enabled to also mistreat their classmates.

Gauteng Department of Education spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department was aware of the incident and had launched an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the pupil's death.

He added a psychosocial support team was dispatched to the school to provide the necessary trauma support and counselling.

Source: News24

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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