The Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), January 14, 2000
Bring back the rod
By Paul Kirk
Johannesburg - In the week that President Thabo Mbeki vowed to crack the whip over South Africa's teachers, some of his provincial colleagues appear to have been taking his stern words a little too literally.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education Eileen Nkosi Shandu this week called for the reintroduction of corporal punishment in schools, while commenting on the poor showing of KwaZulu-Natal schools in the 1999 matric exams.
Shandu - a stern disciplinarian who is often nicknamed "big stick" - said since caning was outlawed in 1994 schools had been left without any effective form of disciplining children, and that learning had suffered as a result of the move. "The removal of corporal punishment was just a political statement since it had to go with [the introduction of] human rights," said Shandu.
The fiery Inkatha Freedom Party education boss said she was worried that discipline was falling apart at schools as pupils no longer feared - or even respected - their teachers. The situation had reached crisis proportions, she said, adding the school system was in danger of falling apart. She flatly blamed the poor matric results on ill discipline and said this was the major reason why 17 KwaZulu- Natal schools had recorded 0% pass rates. As a whole KwaZulu-Natal had recorded only a 0,4% improvement on matric results.
Shandu is not the only prominent educationist calling for corporal punishment to be reinstated. Mike Tlhapane, representative of the National Public Service and Allied Workers' Union, also called for six of the best - and claimed that under National Party apartheid pupils had a better education.
Tlhapane pointed out that under apartheid, and corporal punishment, matrics had a 60% pass rate - 10% higher than at present.
Echoing the words of Shandu, Tlhapane said: "The government eroded discipline by declaring that corporal punishment in schools is a criminal offence without coming up with alternatives."
Tlhapane said that Free State Premier Winkie Direko, who blamed teachers for her province's poor results, could best improve them by issuing her teachers with a few bamboo rods: "We need to stop being kind to naughty little boys and blaming disempowered teachers. We need to bring back the stick and get things in order."
But the disciplinarians are unlikely to be heard by the government. Bheki Khumalo, a representative for Minister of Education Kader Asmal, told the Mail & Guardian the government was not reviewing the use of the rod and warned that any teacher using corporal punishment would be liable to be charged with assault.
Said Khumalo: "Learners, and their parents, are entitled to lay charges against individual teachers if they are caned. Corporal punishment is illegal, and the Constitutional Court has made a ruling that it is unconstitutional. There can be no debate on the matter."
Khumalo said that South Africa had endured too much violence and that there were ways to discipline learners without hitting them.