Paarl Boys' High: SAHRC starts probe into corporal punishment claims

2019-04-11 06:12
Paarl Boys High School (Jenni Evans, News24)

Paarl Boys High School (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Have you been a victim of corporal punishment at Paarl Boys' High School?

If you have or if you have witnessed it, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wants to hear from you as it probes recent claims at the request of the Western Cape Department of Education.

"We have already engaged several stakeholders and collected prima facie evidence which appears to corroborate some of the allegations that were made," SAHRC commissioner André Gaum said after a report by News24.

In the report, past pupils and parents of present pupils alleged that the school practised this form of discipline, which was outlawed through the Schools Act in 1996.

According to the allegations, there were different tiers of punishment, ranging from a "five star" slap on the back and being hit with a plank, to peer-administered "jungle justice".

However, for fear of victimisation and being isolated at the government school which is known as "Booishaai", none of the parents or pupils News24 interviewed were prepared to go on record or lodge an official complaint.

The principal, Derek Swart, and the chairperson of the school governing body, Ritzema De la Bat, denied the claims.

However, they said that one complaint has been lodged against the deputy principal, Richard Visagie, last year, but could not remember the outcome.

WATCH: How 'jungle justice' works at Paarl Boys' High School

After News24 submitted questions, the Western Cape Education Department established that Visagie had been given a final warning and a fine for a corporal punishment incident that occurred last year. 

In response to the article, pupils gathered to sing a song of encouragement to Visagie and the school received an outpouring of support on social media. 

In emails to News24, many past pupils said that while they had experienced corporal punishment, mostly from Visagie, they also regarded him as a good teacher and sports coach. 

However, according to one of the mothers of a current pupil, her child had to be taken to a doctor after a brush with "jungle justice" and was extremely anxious at school.

Another parent alleged that the culture of corporal punishment was so embedded that nobody would speak out because their children would be isolated for breaking the bond of silence around the practice.

To get to the bottom of it, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer asked the SAHRC to investigate the claims.

Gaum urged people to report incidents to them for investigation. 

He warned that the Schools Act bans corporal punishment.

"In addition to this, section 110 (1) of the Children's Act (no. 38 of 2005) (as amended) places a duty of designated individuals, including educators, to report any reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused in a manner causing physical injury, sexual abuse or deliberate neglect," said Gaum.

"Failure to do so constitutes a criminal offence."

He added that any conduct, such as discouraging somebody to speak to the commission, is regarded as "interference".

Senior legal officer Tammy Carter will be handling any complaints that are sent and she assured pupils, parents and teachers that anonymity could be guaranteed for pupils, parents and teachers afraid of losing their jobs.

Anybody who wants to report allegations for investigation can do so at or 021 424 3084.

The commission said that although its mandate was to investigate the claim, the commission has the powers to initiate its own investigation into allegations of corporal punishment at other schools if these are also received.

The school refused to comment.

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