My racial nightmare

Anéll Engelbrecht, principal of 'Koeitjies en Kalfies' crèche, writes on the 'racism' fury of the past week

Open letter from nursery school principal

Anéll Engelbrecht, principal of the “Koeitjies en Kalfies” Nursery School in Centurion, has written an open letter in the wake of last week’s events:

Within 48 hours my protected, privileged white South African life has changed radically, and it will never be the same again…

Racism … We hear about it on a daily basis, read about it everywhere, but during the last two days it has dominated my thoughts and affected me personally. Every day of my life I share my life with so many black people whom I care for financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I eat with them, cry with them, laugh with them, work and pray with them, and they phone me at any time of the day or night when they are experiencing a crisis. “You are our mother”. They are like all my white friends; my loved ones…

I have known Thobo and Nishani for almost a year. She enrolled Nishani at my school in Irene but we only became friends when, three months ago, she moved her to my nursery school in Heritage Hill. She is a single mother and as I used to be one for a long time my heart immediately went out to her. Her family is in Botswana and her assistants let her down time and again. Transport proved to be her major crisis as she is working long hours. I offered to pick her child up at the front door every day, take her to school and take her home in the afternoon.

This I do not do for any other child in the school. Later on, my husband had to start helping out with the transport because I have a nursery school to run. My daughter pleaded with me to put Nishani in her class because she is such a cute little girl.

We do not have black children in our school. Apart from Nishani, we only have Emma in our school and I also help her financially and sometimes with transport too. Why only two black children? Black people are not interested to have their children being taught in Afrikaans.

Have I ever turned away black children? Never!

Within a few weeks Nishani started to say her first words and my husband was thrilled because one of the first words were “Uncle William”. In the mornings he brought her to school like only a proud dad can, carrying her in his arms. My daughters got into trouble because Nishani was constantly in their arms and barely got time to walk on her own.

She loved her teacher, always calling her “Ané!” We were invited to her baptism; were given photos of their weekends; I encouraged Thobo when she cried on my shoulder about the challenges she faced at work; I gave her the assurance that her overdue fees were not a problem, etcetera.

I shared her concern about Nishani’s nappy rash that turned out to be an infection. We were friends…

At 11:00 on 22 June 2016 this friendship turned into racism…

Thobo’s actions threaten the existence of our school. My life is threatened and so is that of my family. I receive racist calls threatening to set my school alight and to come and sort me out. I receive e-mails calling me inhumane, a racist and an embarrassment to Christians!

My children do not understand this: “Mom, why is Nishani’s mom doing this?” “Won’t we see Nishani again?” “Why does the lady think we have been nasty to Nishani?”

For the first time I have to explain racism to my children…

My daughter is devastated. She wants to abandon her studies and does not want to become a teacher anymore. Nishani was in her class every day and has never been treated differently to any of the others in her class. Never!

After the dust settled in the wake of press interviews, EFF protests and the hundreds of calls I had received in which I had to explain the circumstances surrounding the photo, I have realised three things:

The prayers of believers are the only thing that carries one in times of a crisis.

When there is racism in your heart you will see it in everything. The opposite makes you send a photo without thinking or looking because you believe there is a relationship.

We have to pray in all seriousness for our country!

Mrs. EFF, who cannot look me in the eye when telling me that my people took your people’s country, while your people are jumping up and down chanting “voertsek and f***f”, how much racism is in your heart?

Thobo, I am sorry about your pain; sorry about the racism in your heart. We are missing Nisha!

Whether my school will have to close down or whether I will be forced to teach in English, I don’t know.

However, everyone must decide for themselves how much racism is in their heart.

That will determine your life and actions towards others, and only that will save our country!

Issued by Solidarity, 28 June 2016

The image that triggered a firestorm of racial outrage: