The North West teacher at the centre of South Africa’s latest race battle has come out guns blazing in defence of her name and the children she teaches.
Fighting back tears as she read out a statement in Pretoria on Tuesday, Elana Barkhuizen told a media conference that she was a “good teacher”.
“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,” she said.
Barkhuizen was suspended last week after photographs went viral on social media showing four black grade R children sitting separately from their white Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke classmates on their first day of school.
The children were in the class of a fellow teacher, with Barkhuzien taking the photographs for a parents-teacher WhatsApp group.
Declining to take questions because of looming legal action to have her suspension lifted, Barkhuizen read out a statement saying that she was determined to clear her name.
“I will walk this path, and win. I am a good teacher. 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.
“My job is not politics, but teaching.”
Asking people not to feel sorry for her, Barkhuizen said she would fight to ensure that what had happened to her would 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.”
Barkhuizen said she had no idea of the motivation of people who tried to ruin her life.
“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.”
The result was “traumatised children crying and looking at me for consolation and me trying to calm them down while my life is being destroyed”.
“… I had to stand and watch powerlessly as 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.
“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 also not alone. Thank you to all – black and white in my community and nationally – who sent me a message or a prayer.”[source: Times Live]