A 16-year-old grade 10 student, Lathitha Nako have allegedly poisoned herself to death following bully from three fellow learners and two teachers because of her religious beliefs, according to the WhatsApp voice note she made shortly before her death.
The teachers have been placed on leave till investigations are done.
The teenager is said to have had a spiritual gift (intwaso) which the three learners allegedly bullied her for, accusing her of practising witchcraft.
When the matter was brought to the attention of some teachers, it is alleged they failed to act and sided with the alleged bullies.
Instead of acting on the matter, the two teachers are alleged to have insulted Lathitha and joked about her traditional beliefs.
Eastern Cape Education Department head Naledi Mbude said an investigation into the matter was expected to be concluded within seven days.
Mbude also said the parents of the three learners, as well as other pupils, had been provided with psychological support while the investigation continued.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on Education, Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture, Elleck Nchabeleng, called on the officials in the Eastern Cape to “leave no stone unturned” when investigating the matter.
“It is concerning that the educators are alleged to have suppressed Lathitha’s calling merely because her calling differed to the religious beliefs they ascribed to. At school, teachers should play the role of parents, and not religious counsellors.”
Nchabeleng said: “It is not enough to just label it bullying – this is victimisation, discrimination and labelling. Religious views are personal, and do not give people the right to publicly attack those who subscribe to beliefs other than those they hold.”
Deputy Minister in the Presidency responsible for State Security, Zizi Kodwa, visited the family of the teenager at Bhisho’s Tyutyu Village on Tuesday. He said the “sad departure” of Lathitha should serve as a lesson for teachers to deal decisively with bullying.
“One of the foundational principles of our Constitution is tolerance in terms of beliefs and religion. If there are instances of bullying on the basis of people’s beliefs and religion, it undermines these foundational principles of our Constitution.
“We should worry that this incident may be the tip of the iceberg; there could be many in that school or around the Eastern Cape and the country. This must be the last time we deal with the problem of bullying,” said Kodwa.