Corporal Punishment in South African Township Schools: The root cause of a violent South Africa

2015-02-05 12:04

Very few if not none rural-based school learners can say they have never been at the receiving end of spanking from their teachers.  In our township schools, we grow up believing that order is only restored if one can receive blazing lashes from a teacher.  We grow up believing that a black child only listens if a chain, whose pain even an elephant cannot bear, can make a turn on her or his skin. What exacerbates the situation are police officers who are alleged to turn away learners when they report severe injuries that result from brutal acts of corporal punishment.  Antonowicz (2010: 18) defines corporal punishment as a punitive measure in which physical force is used; the intention being to inflict pain or discomfort, however light.

South African Schools Act (SASA) (1996: Section 10 (1&2)) stipulates that “no person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner.  Any person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.”  In spite of the stipulations like this, research on violence suggests that safety in most South African schools is a cause for concern (Taole, 2012: 69; South African Council of Educators (SACE), 2011: 21; Burton and Leoschut, 2013: 43; Jacobs, 2014: 1; Masitsa, 2011: 161).  As South Africans we have a violent past that propelled our parents to reach solutions only through violence, but at this day and age which future do our teachers prepare our learners for: that to gain respect one has to turn to violence? That to restore order in your family, society and country you have to stone those you have to be civil with?

When teachers were stripped of the “right” to apply corporal punishment on learners, the obvious presumption is they were left wanting with regard to the alternative ways of restoring order in their schools. This resultant helplessness is unfortunate but my argument is: spanking late-comers, learners who do not do or finish their home works is no solution, instead it is the reason why South Africa is becoming a violent country with each passing day.

Although the departments of education across the country are doing all they can to equip teachers on alternative ways of bringing order in schools, there is just no willingness on the side of those at which training is aimed. Some teachers go as far as taking their frustrations on learners—learner misbehavior being used as an excuse. If teachers have an authority in the classroom, why do they struggle to do just a simple thing—making sure every learner behaves well?

If our learners are disrespectful, have teachers to whom disrespect is shown ever wondered why? How come that a learner is disruptive in one class and ‘angelic’ in another? How can a child be co-operative in another teacher’s classroom and less so in another’s? How come other teachers do not use violent ways of restoring order in the classroom but still enjoy their learners’ respect and attention?

What we fail to understand is these learners that have been turned into punching bags are future parents who are supposed to be taught gentleness; instead they are taught aggression which has turned some of our societies into battle grounds. As my dear Professor Jonathan Jansen would say, “Those who beat the vulnerable and weak are cowards.”  I do not care what the reasons for using corporal punishment are, one thing remains: corporal punishment is destroying our societies.

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