IN FULL | 'I am a good teacher': read Elana Barkhuizen's statement on THAT 'racist' photo

15 January 2019 - 14:57
By Staff Reporter
Elena Barkhuizen on Tuesday addressed a joint press conference with trade union Solidarity.
Image: Alon Skuy Elena Barkhuizen on Tuesday addressed a joint press conference with trade union Solidarity.

Elana Barkhuizen‚ the teacher at the centre of the racism storm at a North West primary school‚ has released a statement about the viral photo that led to her suspension.

At a joint press conference with Solidarity on Tuesday‚ where they announced their intention to fight her suspension‚ Barkhuizen read the prepared speech.

Barkhuizen was suspended on Thursday January 10 after a photo showing four black children sitting at a separate table behind a door‚ away from white pupils in their Grade R class at Laërskool Schweizer-Reneke‚ went viral.

The school last week dismissed any allegations of discrimination or racism at the school.

Trade union Solidarity said the suspension was illegal‚ and said it would take legal action to have it lifted as a matter of urgency.

Read Barkhuizen's full statement here:

"I am Elana Barkhuizen. I am a mother. I am a woman. I am a teacher.

People who know me say I am a good teacher. People who know me fight to have their children in my class. People who know me know that I put my whole heart into my work for my learners.

Since I can remember‚ it has been my dream to teach small children. It is often a thankless profession‚ but I am paid in smiles‚ kisses‚ and hugs. I am privileged - every year I see how frightened and unsure Grade R learners bloom with a little love and encouragement from my side. The children in front of me all have the same fears and are uncertain about the same things‚ but they also have the same sparkle in their eyes for the exciting times ahead. My job is not politics‚ but teaching. My profession is love for children‚ just because they are children. I see how each of my learners explores a new world and I help them to master that new world. I see how small drooping shoulders transform into jubilation and smiles after a hug. I walk with them every step of the way each year – my heart breaks every year when I have to say goodbye to them – but I am proud to see they are ready for the next step‚ because that is what I do as a teacher‚ regardless of race or background. A teacher is the candle that lights children’s small flames‚ even if it means sacrifices have to be made.

Last week my world changed. A photograph I took of a class full of happy‚ smiling children on their first day of school was used by opportunists against my children‚ against me‚ and against my school. Unsure Grade R learners on their first day at school were mercilessly exploited by these people - a day which should have been exciting. The result – traumatised children crying and looking at me for consolation and me trying to calm them down while my life is being destroyed.

I do not know what the people who tried to ruin my life wanted to achieve. I just know that I had to stand and watch powerlessly how I was being judged from a stage. I had to endure insults and I was told that I may never teach again. I had to watch how people who have never met me tell me that they know exactly who I am. How they dragged my good name through the mud and then kept on kicking me while I was down just for the fun of it.

I will not be told what my worth is by people who do not know me. I will embark on this journey. I will clear my name. I will take on these people with power and I shall win.

I am a good teacher.

I am also not alone. Thank you to all the people – black and white – in my community and nationally - who sent me a message or a prayer. I could not respond to all the messages‚ but I would like to let you know that I sincerely appreciate every little piece of encouragement which I desperately need at the moment.

A sincere thank you to all the parents – black and white – who repeatedly told the media and all who wanted to listen who I am. It means more to me than you will ever know.

Do not be sorry for me – I will not surrender. I will fight. I will make sure that what happened to me will never happen to any other teacher. I owe it to my own class‚ my colleagues and every child in South Africa who needs good teachers. We dare not allow these people who have spread hate to create doubt in teachers’ minds. Teachers are perhaps the only source of love and support for so many children and teachers are some of the most important figures in children’s lives. I will not allow that those children are deprived of good teachers. I will not allow that teachers will need to continuously walk on eggshells in order for a divisive hate gang to be satisfied.

I am a good teacher – I don’t care about anything other than the well-being of my learners. I will now do and will always do what is best for the children in front of me. If I did not at all times practice that‚ I would not have been a good teacher.

I am Elana Barkhuizen – and I will stand up. For myself‚ for my learners‚ and for all teachers."