/ 17 March 2024

Harsher sanctions sought against teachers who use corporal punishment 

The persistence of corporal punishment has often been attributed to a lack of support for the ban among teachers.
The persistence of corporal punishment has often been attributed to a lack of support for the ban among teachers. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

Despite the ban on corporal punishment in 1996, many schools are still using it as a form of discipline.

Civil society organisation Section 27, which represents the Centre for Child Law, and the parents of two learners who were assaulted by their teachers, has taken the South African Council of Educators (SACE) to the supreme court of appeal after it found flaws in the council’s mandatory sanctions policy.

In 2019, Section 27 reported the two educators to the SACE — a statutory body established to develop and maintain ethical and professional standards for educators — for assaulting minors on school property.

In the first instance, a learner in grade two was hit on the back of his head with a PVC pipe by a teacher. 

In the second case, a teacher hit a grade five learner on her cheek and then on her head. The learner started bleeding from her ear and had to receive medical attention, which led to her being absent from school and consequently having to repeat the grade.

The SACE held disciplinary hearings in September 2019, where both teachers pleaded guilty and were fined R15 000 each, of which R5 000 was suspended.

The SACE, as part of its mandatory sanctions policy, struck the teachers’ names off the educators’ roll, which results in a 10-year suspension, but they can still teach unless they are found guilty of another offence.  

“This shows no consideration for learners’ safety and no obligation on the teachers to correct their behaviour,” Section 27 legal researcher Mila Harding told the Mail & Guardian.

She said the SACE was “lenient” in its sanctions against the teachers. 

Section 27 is now appealing the decision to merely suspend teachers in the supreme court of appeal in a bid to get the case a fresh hearing.

In a separate incident, a parent of a grade seven learner told the M&G that her child had been intimidated by her teacher, which she fears will result in a physical altercation.

“My son’s teacher has been intimidating him because of his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which has affected him so badly that he doesn’t want to go to school and he now gets embarrassed in front of his friends,” said the parent, who preferred to remain anonymous.

According to a 2023 report by Statistics South Africa, Children Series Volume I Children Exposed to Maltreatment, 2021, about a million children have experienced violence at school, and close to 84% experienced corporal punishment, verbal abuse (13.7%) and physical violence inflicted by teachers (10.6%).

“While schools are expected to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children to fully benefit from educational opportunities, teachers and peers are the source of a fearful learning environment in South Africa,” read a statement by StatsSA.

In February 2016, TimesLive reported that a grade three Free State learner, Nthabiseng Mtambo, had died after a teacher repeatedly beat her on the head with a hosepipe for not doing her homework.

The Constitution contains measures to protect learners from being subjected to corporal punishment.

·       Section 12(1) gives everyone the right to freedom and security;

·       Section 28(1)(d) states that every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation; and

·       Section 10 gives everyone inherent human dignity and the right to have their dignity protected.

These laws were enforced in 1996 as part of the South African Schools Act, under section 10, which banned the use of corporal punishment in schools.

Section27 has requested the SACE to revise its mandatory sanctions policy to “include important elements in it such as rehabilitative and corrective sanctions [such as anger management and training in non-violent forms of discipline] to uphold the principle of the best interests of the child”.

It is also asking the high court to immediately remove all teachers guilty of serious assault from the educators’ roll and to include a more child-centred approach that will allow learners and their parents to participate in the SACE’s disciplinary hearings.

Meanwhile, as the country heads to its general elections in May, former president Jacob Zuma said his new political party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), would introduce mandatory measures to ensure there is discipline among the youth. This includes the reintroduction of corporal punishment and a year of mandatory military training after matric.

During a rally in Gauteng, Zuma told his onlookers that South Africa should do away with the Roman-Dutch law of governance and introduce laws to help the youth prosper.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta told the M&G that reintroducing corporal punishment would only breed trouble in schools. 

“The Constitution is transformative in its current form but we need to look at the broader interest of the country, and bringing back corporal punishment in schools will only make the situation worse because we will have more violent learners which will affect the societal chain system,” Makaneta said.