OPINION

Schweizer-Reneke: Elana Barkhuizen's statement

Tearful grade R teacher says she will stand and fight those who tried to ruin her life

English translation of the statement by Elana Barkhuizen, the suspended teacher at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, to a press conference held by the Solidarity Trade Union, 15 January 2019:

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.

Text in the original Afrikaans:

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

Ek is Elana Barkhuizen.

Ek is ‘n mamma. Ek is ‘n vrou.

Ek is ‘n juffrou.

Mense wat my ken noem my ‘n goeie onderwyser. Mense wat my ken baklei om hulle kinders in my klas te hê. Mense wat my ken weet, ek gee my hele hart vir my kinders.

Vandat ek kan onthou was my droom om klas te gee vir kindertjies. Dit is dikwels ‘n ondankbare beroep, maar my betaling is glimlagte, soene en drukkies. Ek is bevoorreg – ek sien elke jaar hoe bang en onseker graad R-maatjies ontpop met ‘n bietjie liefde en aanmoediging van my af. Kinders wat voor my sit is kinders is almal bang en onseker oor dieselfde dinge, maar het ook dieselfde blink in hulle oë vir die opwindende tyd wat voorlê.

My werk is nie politiek nie, maar klasgee. My beroep is liefde vir kinders, bloot omdat hul kinders is. Ek sien hoe elkeen van my kinders ‘n nuwe wêreld ontdek en ek help hulle om dit te bemeester. Ek sien hoe onseker-skouertjies verander in jubel en lag gesiggies na ‘n drukkie. Ek stap saam met elkeen van hulle hierdie pad elke dag, jaar na jaar – en my hart breek elke jaar wanneer ek hulle moet groet – maar ek is trots om te sien hulle is gereed vir die volgende stap - want dit is wat ek as ‘n juffrou doen, ongeag ras of agtergrond. ‘n Onderwyser is die kers wat ander se vlammetjies aansteek, al is dit ten koste van hulleself.

Verlede week het my wêreld verander. ‘n Foto wat ek geneem het van ‘n gelukkige klas vol kindertjies op hulle eerste skooldag, is deur opportuniste teen my kindertjies, teen my skool én teen my gebruik. Onseker graad R’tjies op hulle eerste skooldag, is deur hierdie mense genadeloos uitgebuit - wat ‘n opwindende dag moes wees. Die gevolg was getraumatiseerde kinders wat huil en by my sekerheid soek, en ek wat hulle probeer kalm hou terwyl my eie lewe verwoes word.

Ek weet nie wat die mense wat my lewe probeer verwoes het wou regkry nie. Ek weet net dat ek magteloos moes staan en toekyk hoe ek van ‘n verhoog af veroordeel word. Hoe ek beledig word en vertel word dat ek nooit weer mag klasgee nie. Hoe mense wat my nog nooit ontmoet het nie, vertel dat hulle presies weet wat ek is. Hoe hulle my goeie naam geslaan het en geskop het en toe verder geskop het vir hulle plesier.

Ek gaan my nie laat vertel wat my waarde is deur enigiemand anders nie. Ek gaan hierdie pad stap. Ek gaan my naam skoon kry. Ek gaan hierdie magtige mense aanvat en wen.

Ek is ‘n goeie onderwyser.

Ek is ook nie alleen nie. Vir almal, wit en swart, in my gemeenskap en nasionaal, wat vir my ‘n boodskap of gebed gestuur het – baie dankie. Ek weet dat ek nie op alles kon reageer nie, maar ek wil julle laat weet dat ek elke liewe stukkie bemoediging waardeer en so bitter nodig het tans.

Veral vir die ouers, swart en wit, wat herhaaldelik vir die media en almal wat wou luister vertel het wie ek is – baie dankie. Dit beteken meer vir my as wat julle sal besef.

Moenie vir my jammer wees nie – ek gaan nie lê nie. Ek gaan baklei. Ek gaan doodseker maak dat wat met my gebeur het – nooit weer met enige ander onderwyser gaan gebeur nie. Ek is dit verskuldig aan my eie klassie – aan my mede-onderwysers – en aan elke kind in Suid-Afrika wat goeie onderwysers nodig het.

Ons durf nie toelaat dat hierdie mense wat kom haat saai het – twyfel in onderwysers se harte laat ontstaan nie. Vir soveel kindertjies is onderwysers dalk die enigste liefde en ondersteuning wat hulle kry – vir almal is onderwysers van die belangrikste figure in hulle lewe. Ek sal nie toelaat dat daardie kindertjies goeie onderwysers ontneem word nie. Ek sal nie toelaat dat onderwysers deurentyd op eiers loop sodat ‘n haatbende bevredig kan word nie.

Ek is ‘n goeie onderwyser – ek gee nie om oor enigiets anders as die welstand van my klassie nie. Ek sal te alle tye doen wat die beste vir al die kinders in my klassie is, ook nou. As ek nie het nie – sou ek nie ‘n goeie onderwyser wees nie.

Ek is Elana Barkhuizen – en ek gaan opstaan. Vir my, vir my klassie en vir alle onderwysers.

Issued by Solidarity, 15 January 2019