'I made a mistake, I am still young‚' says teacher accused of K-word rant

30 August 2018 - 10:39
By Tania Broughton
Westville Girls High School teacher Danielle de Bruyn has been accused of using the k-word.
Image: Facebook Westville Girls High School teacher Danielle de Bruyn has been accused of using the k-word.

Former Westville Girls’ High School teacher Danielle de Bruyn‚ who resigned on Monday amid allegations that she used the k-word while teaching a Grade 10 English class‚ has broken her silence.

She says it was in the context of a discussion over a book “and I never used it in reference to any learner”.

Her mistake‚ which she acknowledges‚ was to express a political view on land expropriation in the classroom.

In a written statement‚ the first time she has publicly commented on the issue‚ De Bruyn said on Thursday that she “deeply regrets the turn of events” and believes she can be forgiven.

“I used the word during a discussion on Harper Lee’s novel‚ To Kill a Mockingbird‚ and with reference to the N word.

“I explained to the class that this was the equivalent in the American social context of the racial slurs adopted historically in South Africa.

“The book concerns questions of racial prejudice and I explained to the class that the American farmers in the novel had been socialised to believe that black people were of a lower social level than themselves and that any goodness the farmers had within them had been overshadowed by their racial prejudice.”

De Bruyn‚ who is 26 and had been a teacher at the school for three years up to her resignation on Monday‚ said the discussion changed to the topic of South African farmers and land expropriation‚ and she expressed a personal view‚ which‚ with hindsight‚ she should not have in the classroom.

“It was in response to a question by a learner regarding my opinion on the matter. I commented that the proposal that land be re-distributed without compensation was a concern and that violence was never an acceptable means of addressing any problem‚ let alone discontent over present or persistent land inequalities.”

De Bruyn said: “This was a product of inexperience and political naivety over a very complex issue. Insofar as my view could have been construed as inappropriate or racially charged‚ given the inequalities of the past are rooted in racial discrimination‚ I apologised to the school and to the learners.”

She said she resigned “because I felt that I had made a mistake with how I conducted myself in the class. It was the best option for the school‚ the learners and myself.”

She claimed there had been some inaccuracies in some media reports.

“I did not use the ‘k-word’ in reference to any individual or group nor have I been accused of doing so.”

“I had a good rapport with the learners… when I apologised to them for imposing my own political views on them‚ many of them seemed to be forgiving.”

She said teaching was in her blood and her father‚ Eugene‚ was a well-respected principal of Westville Senior Primary up until the time he committed suicide.

“I am a past pupil of Westville Girls’ High. I grew up in a multi-racial environment and have close friends of all races who know I am not a racist.

“This incident has been very traumatic. But I have learned a valuable lesson. I know that in the spirit of reconciliation‚ which South Africans are known for‚ I can be forgiven.

“I made a mistake. I am still young and I still have a lot to offer.”

In a letter issued by the school on Tuesday‚ principal Catherine Raw outlined the scope of the school’s probe‚ which was initiated last week.

“I am sad and troubled to let you know that one of our staff stepped out of her role of teacher and used her position of parent in the classroom to make racist remarks and share her biased opinion of the South African political situation.”

“By doing this‚ not only did she break the law and violated the code of the school‚ but she also created a hurtful and unsafe environment for the learners in her class‚” Raw wrote.

She said that the school was made aware of the incident on Thursday last week and‚ by Friday morning‚ had initiated its own internal investigation.

“The teacher requested an opportunity to apologise to the class. It was pointed out to her that this did not alter the investigation process in place.”