Principal takes own life

2014-05-06 00:00

THE headmaster of one of KwaZulu-Natal’s elite primary schools chose his own school grounds to commit suicide yesterday — triggering grief, anger and “wild rumours” among parents.

The body of Eugene de Bruyn — a well-loved principal who has produced some of KZN’s top academic and sports stars — was found hanged in a swimming pool outbuilding at Westville Senior Primary at 8.30 am.

The Witness has established that the drama began when De Bruyn’s girlfriend discovered a suicide note at their home in Westville at 5.30 am.

One policeman with knowledge of the incident — who asked not to be named — said a search was launched after the woman brought the note to the police station. It included a WhatsApp alert sent out by the Dawncliffe community watch, expressing concern for his welfare, and appealing for residents to look out for De Bruyn (53) and his car.

Eventually, his car was noticed at the school, and the estate manager found his body before any child visited the area, according to all sources contacted.

Westville Senior Primary is the feeder school to Westville Boys’ and Westville Girls’ high schools, which have ranked among the top academic schools in the country for the past few years. De Bruyn led the school for the past 15 years.

Tim Tyrrell, chairperson of the school governing body, said “no child was directly affected in any way”, but that, as an “automatic” precaution, volunteer trauma councillors from Safety Net were on hand to assist.

The policeman said “all proper protocols were followed”, including a strict police cordon of the area and the “dignified treatment” of the body.

“I knew Eugene very well — he was a very fine man who made a huge contribution to this community; even offering his school for police meetings,” said the officer. “We are all shocked.”

However, the officer alleged that some parents had spread false rumours, including claims of a shooting death, of child witnesses, and of “foul play”.

“I am extremely angry with the rumour mill spurred on by certain individuals — I can confirm that everyone involved acted properly after this tragedy,” he said.

One parent, Mandy Folpini — who is a nursing sister — said, “It’s very sad, but not altogether a shock for me. He was very quiet and professional, but it was evident that he suffered from depression, and took at least a term off work last year. But a lot of parents are also quite angry that he ended his life in this way.”

The father of two children — including a son at Westville Boy’s High School — De Bruyn had experienced “personal difficulties” since losing his wife to cancer six years ago, according to friends.

Nestor Pierides, deputy headmaster of Westville Boys’ High, said, “It’s a total shock — I saw Eugene just two Thursdays ago — he seemed his usual positive self. He turned that school into one of the top schools in South Africa.”

Another parent — who asked not to be named — said De Bruyn “took a chance” on her township school foster child, with a special admission. She said the boy “will be devastated when I break the news — he really liked Mr de Bruyn, who was like a mentor to him.”

However, the parent said, “I think it was very selfish to choose the school grounds, where a child could have found him; it’s a big loss but I’m actually also quite angry.”

Tyrrell said, “We are all deeply saddened — it appears Mr de Bruyn took his own life. We like to argue that Westville is the best boys’ and girls’ primary school in South Africa — evidenced by the remarkable matric results achieved by the senior schools we feed — and much of that can be credited to Mr de Bruyn’s leadership.”

The MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal, Neliswa Peggy Nkonyeni, said, “We send our deepest condolences to his family.”

Nkonyeni added, “Teaching was not affected and the school is 100% operational. Counselling was recommended for the estate manager.”

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