Elana Barkhuizen the teacher who took a photo of a Grade R class in North West in which black and white children sat at separate tables, has spoken out about the racist storm that saw her suspended. Here is her statement:
“I am a mother. I am a woman. I am a teacher.
“People who know me say I am a good teacher and 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 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 am Elana Barkhuizen - and I will stand up. For myself for my learners and for all teachers.”