Voice note victimisation leads to education and apology

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A Grade 12 pupil at King David Victory Park in Johannesburg received a horrific anti-Semitic voice note on WhatsApp this week from a Treverton College pupil. The outcome, however, has been a very swift process of reconciliation and reflection for the perpetrator and his school.
by TALI FEINBERG | Nov 08, 2018

On Tuesday, a Grade 8 pupil from Treverton College sent Danni Haymann a voice note saying: “We all agree that you should have died in the Holocaust. You know those ashtrays full of Jewish people... maybe they should have added you to that little pile. What do you call a flying Jew?” His friends yelled, “Smoke!”

Haymann, who is writing finals, said that it all began because these boys had been cyber bullying a friend of hers. She sent a voice note to one pupil, warning him that his bullying would have serious consequences. In response, that boy got his friend to send her the anti-Semitic message.

“When I got it, I just started crying. It broke my heart, not only because he made a joke about the Holocaust, but because a 15-year-old was able to say that and not feel any remorse,” says Haymann, whose father’s grandfather was killed in the Shoah. “A child like that is actually so little. How can a boy in Grade 8 have a mind like that?”

Haymann managed to respond to him saying that she was going to share the voice note on social media, and find out the pupil’s identity, but he blocked her on WhatsApp. Her post quickly went viral, and Haymann received messages of support from all over the world, which she found hugely supportive but also overwhelming. In spite of writing finals, she has not slept in 24 hours, and feels that in some ways, the situation has spiralled out of control.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) quickly stepped in to support her, and engage with the school. On Wednesday, Kean Broom, the Headmaster of Treverton College, personally called Haymann to offer his deepest apologies, and discuss the way forward.

He said the pupil would fly from Durban to Johannesburg so that he could apologise to her face-to-face, and that he understood the pain his words had caused her and the Jewish community.

“We are seeing incidents of hate across the spectrum of society in South Africa on a frequent basis. We hear about incidents in the sporting environment, and within the schooling system,” said SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn. “In each situation, we analyse the specific issue and circumstances carefully, and decide how to proceed in consultation with relevant professionals and experts. It is imperative that we do not have knee-jerk reactions, but that we investigate each case carefully and make a considered determination on how to proceed.”

Kahn said that the SAJBD differentiated between “hardened anti-Semites who show no remorse and refuse to take accountability for their actions, and people who make stupid, uneducated, and hurtful comments. Once they understand the seriousness and vile nature of their hatred, they regret their actions, and are prepared to comply with remedies to address them. We approach them differently.

“We have had excellent results working with schools in terms of education and behaviour change. Our goal is not to punish remorseful offenders but rather to effect behaviour change. We work closely with the Holocaust & Genocide Centres around the country in terms of sensitivity training.”

Mary Kluk, the President of the SAJBD, and the Director of the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre, said she had been in direct contact with the school about arranging visits for all of its pupils to the centre.

“We always reach out to the school in such incidents to try to turn them into a learning opportunity. It is not for us to judge. All we can do with immediate effect is to help change the way schools and learners respond to people who are different. This is especially in the context of building the South Africa we dream of, which will not happen if young people talk this way,” she said.

On Treverton’s Twitter profile, the school is described as an independent, co-ed day and boarding school in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, “providing a balanced, all-round, quality education based on a strong Christian foundation”.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report, Broom expressed his deepest apologies to the South African Jewish community for the hurt and pain this incident had caused. He explained that Holocaust education was part of the history curriculum, and those students who took the subject always visited the Holocaust Centre, but that this visit would now be for all school pupils.

In an official statement from the school, Broom wrote, “This is something that is completely contrary to our values as a school, and our dealing with it will reflect our determination to prevent things of this nature occurring in future. Despite our natural desire to want justice immediately, it is equally important that due process is followed, and that the decisions we make are constructive and build towards positive and lasting change. I have been overwhelmed by the grace shown by the Jewish community in the midst of the hurt and anger. This gives me hope that eventual healing and restoration can be achieved.”

After hearing the voice note, Milton Shain, the Emeritus Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town and expert on anti-Semitism warned, “It would be foolish to assume that such hatred is consigned to history. One wonders if these ideas come from the home or from sub-cultures thriving in social media. We saw the impact of such hateful talk in the recent Pittsburgh massacre. Make no mistake, ideas have consequences. Today, these fantasists are relishing the oxygen provided by the radical and racist right in the United States and parts of Europe.”

Haymann does not want the boy’s life to be ruined, but rather for him to learn from his mistake and understand that words matter. For her, the incident also has a positive side as, “It made me appreciate my people and my religion. I’ve truly felt a sense of pride and belonging, and I am so grateful that I am Jewish.”

She was planning to work in America next year, but the incident has made her reconsider her plans. “I have never been out of the country before, but after this experience, I am going to do everything I can to make my first trip to Israel,” she said.


  1. 4 Anton Klein 08 Nov
    The antisemetic aspects have been excellently dealt with. Are the concerns of cyber bullying, a scourge in its own right, being dealt with by the school?
  2. 3 Russell Fig 08 Nov
    I guess we Jews can never forget that we are a minority throughout the world and that so many people hate us just for being Jewish.
  3. 2 Peter Labistour 09 Nov
    As an Old Trevertonian and being Jewish, I was appalled when my daughter shared this voice note with me. My intial reaction was of anger and disgust. I do however believe that insightful and poignant education as well as hearing first hand accounts of the holocaust and simply understanding what it means to be Jewish will go a long way for School pupils to learn and understand. I do however believe that the pupil who was guilty of this does need to recceive some form of punishment to allow him to reflect on his behaviour.
  4. 1 Diana Schwarz - Social Media lawyer 15 Nov
    I was absolutely horrified to hear of this incident via a colleague who heard it on Chai Fm and read more about it in this article. This falls under Hate Speech which seems to be rife in SA at the moment. So saddened to hear that this is happening amongst such young pupils. I provide Social Media Educational Talks at schools for this very reason, to prevent this behaviour and inform students on the legal implications.


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