Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke teacher Elana Barkhuizen cries as she briefs the media on how her life was affected after she was suspended. Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - Elana Barkhuizen, the suspended teacher at the centre of the racism scandal that hit North West’s Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke last week, is determined to clear her name with the help of the Solidarity trade union.

Barkhuizen said this during a joint media briefing in Centurion yesterday, adding that she didn’t understand why people were trying to ruin her life, but vowed to take them on.

“I am a good teacher. I will not be told what my worth is by people who do not know me. I will embark on this journey, I will take on these people with power and I shall win,” she said.

Although Barkhuizen could not go into the merits of the incident, she said her character and her family had been hurt by it.

“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,” she said.

The school made headlines last week after an image showing black and white pupils sitting at separate tables in a Grade R classroom circulated on various social media platforms, in what was termed racial segregation.

Barkhuizen was suspended by the provincial department, but the union has since challenged her suspension. Barkhuizen and Solidarity claim the suspension is unlawful as all the teacher did was to take the photograph.

“There is no way you can suspend a teacher because she took a picture. A huge injustice has been done to Barkhuizen and her family and she deserves an apology,” said the union’s chief executive, Dr Dirk Hermann.

He said the school governing body (SGB) had not yet told Barkhuizen anything of substance about her suspension.

“She has no idea why she has been suspended and that is unlawful.”

Hermann said the union was set to serve court papers before the end of the week, asking that the unlawful suspension be lifted as a matter of urgency.

Solidarity’s head of labour services, Anton van der Bijl, said a case of defamation against the provincial MEC, Sello Lehari, was being prepared, as he had publicly painted Barkhuizen as a racist.

He said the suspension did not follow the proper procedure and that Barkhuizen was employed by the SGB, not the Department of Basic Education.

Barkhuizen has been in the teaching profession for 15 years and employed by the school for two years.

Meanwhile another school, also in the North West, has been embroiled in a racism storm following allegations that black pupils were failed because of their race.

Hoërskool Stilfontein has resorted to verifying the results in order to get to the bottom of the claims.

It has also been established that the failed black pupils were given transfer letters when they received their reports in December.

“There was no explanation from the principal as to why our children got transfer letters and why they failed, some with only one or two points per subject. Our children have only started speaking out on a lot of things that are happening at the school now,” said one parent.

Teaching and learning were disrupted over the past few days after parents stormed the school and removed their children from classrooms on Monday. Schooling continued smoothly yesterday.

The department appointed a committee to verify the results. They started work shortly after a meeting between Lehari and unhappy parents and their children at the school yesterday.

Most of the pupils are in Grades 10 and 11.

Angry parents said some of the pupils at the school were failed due to absenteeism.

While some pupils continued with lessons yesterday, a large group disputing their end-of-year results waited to be interviewed by committee members.

“My daughter was failed because teachers said they recorded a high number of days absent from school. That cannot be right. Is the school saying that black children are not smart? That is racist,” said a parent of a Grade 11 pupil.

Another parent said her daughter had problems with a geography teacher. She said pupils were marked absent if the teachers arrived in class before them.

“Our children cannot continue learning under such circumstances,” the parent said.

SGB chairperson Vhusani Mphigalale said there was no proof of racism at the school yet.

“Pupils are claiming that they are treated based on the colour of their skin and raise the issue that 100% of our staffing is white,” Mphigalale said.

THE MERCURY