‘But I was just joking!’
Keith Arlow, the former St John’s College teacher, pleaded to keep his job during his disciplinary proceedings, which found him guilty of making racist comments. His wish was granted when an independent senior counsel made a finding that resulted in a final warning.
In his 30-page affidavit before his disciplinary hearing, Arlow appeared dismissive and defensive about the allegations levelled against him, saying the charges were vague, unsubstantiated and framed as a conclusion. He also said he could not remember some of the incidents during which he made racist comments. However, he did admit to making inappropriate comments, but said he was just joking.
“I admit that certain of the stereotype (sic) comments made by myself to students in good humour were not appropriate or were ill advised. I see this now ... Sometimes what they say to each other appears funny and without thought I participated therein,” he said.
“As a teacher, you sometimes get caught up in a conversation with students and the teacher/student line gets crossed.”
Arlow quit the school on Friday, after Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi demanded that he be fired by 1pm.
“All schools, whether they are public or private, cannot have codes of conduct that contravene the Constitution of South Africa,” he said. Lesufi said the school acted before the 1pm deadline.
The former geography teacher, employed at St John’s since 2006, was promoted to housemaster in 2012 and senior housemaster in 2015. In his submission, he objected to a string of charges he faced in a disciplinary hearing on February 10 and pleaded not guilty.
Among the allegations made against him with which he dealt in his response, were that he:
. Told a black pupil he was an “underachiever”;
. Stated black boys “look the same from some angles”;
. Told a black learner: “Good, now you are thinking like a white boy”;
. Did not like “Six Formers because there are too many foreigners”;
. Once said: “All you black boys know Zulu”;
. Referred to an Indian pupil as “too Indian”; and
. Referred to a Greek boy as a “dirty Greek” or a “Turk”. He claimed not to remember any of these, but did recall an incident last year during which Indian pupils were “joking with each other” and others that young Indian men like Golf GTIs.
“I see now in retrospect that although I did not start the conversation or the stereotypical comments, it may have been inappropriate for me as teacher to engage herein,” Arlow submitted.
“When the good-natured jokes were over, no one seemed offended thereby and I am genuinely shocked by the fact that one (or more) of the students was, in fact, offended ... I believed that these matric students were mature enough to understand the context that my comments were made [sic] and it is now apparent to me that I was mistaken.”
In his submission, Arlow also detailed how the school did not officially disclose the allegations against him and instead sent him to a workshop at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in December.
“I was not told that the workshop was intended to be part of an ongoing investigation or disciplinary process by the school against me or that a report on me would be generated therefrom ... I certainly was not advised of my rights,” he said.
“I seemed to be guilty in everyone’s eyes. The allegations had been allowed to gain momentum unchecked and I felt that I was no longer in a position to clear my name.”
On Friday, the school said it and Arlow decided to part ways because the situation was untenable and their relationship had broken down irretrievably.