Pupils Speak Out: ‘They beat us in a way they would not beat their children’

The article you are about to read is part of a weekly series of comment pieces written by pupils about the problems they encounter in their schools. The series offers pupils a chance to be part of the debate about South Africa’s education system.

There was a particular day I couldn’t go to school on a Friday, and in class that Friday the teacher said we should have Saturday class. I didn’t know about the Saturday class so I did not go. 

In the Saturday class, the teacher gave out homework to be handed in at school on Monday. Because I did not attend the Saturday class, I did not know about the homework and therefore did not do it.

When I got to school that Monday my teacher said I would get seven lashings on my hand for missing school on Friday, seven lashings for missing Saturday class and seven lashings for not doing the homework. The teacher never asked me why I didn’t come on Friday – it didn’t seem to matter.

I got the lashings anyway.

The pain was unbearable and I was expected to still attend school the entire day that day as though nothing had happened.

Although corporal punishment is the norm in my school, it was at the point when I got those 21 lashings on my one hand with a thick, red hosepipe that I really felt something should be done. Enough was enough.

I am convinced that that teacher beat me up in a way he would not beat any of his children.

More than the physical pain, corporal punishment makes many of us feel embarrassed and ashamed to come to school. Often it never solves the problems because we get hit for coming late or fighting in school or missing homework, but these problems are recurring, this means that this method of punishment does not work. 

Teachers at my school can hit a learner with anything including slapping them with their hands or using objects such as the hosepipe.

When we started with school based campaigns at nongovernmental organisation Equal Education, we shared all the things that bothered us at school. I realised it wasn’t only my school that had problems with corporal punishment. 

It was in many schools. We also learnt that corporal punishment has been illegal in schools in South Africa since 1996. In the Western Cape, any teacher found beating a student can be charged with assault. The Western Cape education department has a binding policy on dealing with cases of corporal punishment. All along, we didn’t know this was the case. We thought beatings were normal.

One of the girls at another school shared her story with us when we all met each other to start the campaigns. She said she got beaten up for just shouting at another pupil. Teachers beat her with a hosepipe on her body and she even had scars.

The following day, her mother went to the school and insisted they take her daughter to a doctor. They did that but no one ever apologised to the pupil or said anything. The teachers said they had an agreement with the parents that they could beat up their children, but this was not true because this pupil’s mother did not consent to any such thing.

She said at her school the teachers could beat you on any part of your body. She went on to say that if the teachers wanted to fight you they would fight you. She said she was the only one speaking up now because pupils feared victimisation at schools. They feared that they would be beaten up for talking about corporal punishment. 

She said that when they approached teachers to find alternative ways to punish bad behaviour they said that if they do not want to be beaten up then they must stay at home and not come to school.

Her story made me reflect not only on the time I got the 21 lashes, but also on how incredibly unfair it was that this practice was allowed to continue in our township schools. I don’t think our parents are aware of the extent to which we are beaten up by teachers in schools. All it does is teach us violence and that violence will supposedly solve issues.

We are calling for the end of corporal punishment in our schools. We also know that even though it’s wrong for the teachers to practice corporal punishment, our teachers work under incredibly harsh conditions. In our schools the classes are larger, the infrastructure is not good, our teachers mark more papers, learners in large classes are more restless and safety and security is an issue. 

Ultimately our teachers are more stressed than the average teacher at a former Model C or private school. This is not an excuse, but inequality in education creates tense conditions in our schools.

On Friday October 31, we marched to the provincial legislature in Cape Town to demand equality in education. We have mobilised our learners and community members to join us in our call to end corporal punishment in our schools and we think everyone should rally behind us in putting a stop to this.

The pupil who wrote this comment piece is a member of education rights organisation Equal Education and attends a school in Khayelitsha township in the Western Cape.

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