Nelspruit, South Africa
OVER 150 toyi-toying pupils marched on Mpumalanga's new legislature complex on Monday protesting against the use of sjamboks and corporal punishment in local private schools.
Scores of the chanting pupils bared their buttocks and backs to show welts and raw wounds from beatings at the Cefups Academy near Nelspruit.
At least two girls at the school also displayed sjamboks bruises on their arms caused, they claim, by trying to defend themselves against "out of control teachers".
The pupils, led by Congress of South Africa Students (Cosas) activists, allege that Cefups dormitory monitors and teachers regularly beat students for even minor infringements.
Provincial Cosas chair Luthando Shongwe said the academy also forced pupils to live in dangerously unsanitary conditions and had failed to provide any of the advanced science or computer facilities promised in the school prospectus.
The R18 600 per year secondary school of roughly 600 pupils from Swaziland, Gauteng and surrounding areas boasts high pass rates and claims to offer pupils one-on-one tuition in a "peaceful rural setting".
"But we are instead forced to live in dirty crowded rooms, and don't even have showers or hot water for washing. We don't what the school to close and we accept that discipline is important, but no-one should be beaten the way we are," said Grade nine pupil Xolani Mkhwanazi.
Mkhwanazi (see pic) was one of over 20 pupils who displayed welts and scabs from sjamboks beatings on their buttocks, backs and legs.
"I was accused of drinking on school premises with a group of other boys. There was no proof and we were simply hauled into a room and given 30 lashes each. I cried. I now also have a reputation as a heavy drinker even though I wasn't involved," said Mkhwanazi.
Other pupils, too scared to be named, said hostel staff, pupils and even teachers were regularly berated and beaten in front of the school at assembly.
Two teachers have, Cosas claims, resigned as a result of the abuse and two others were recently fired for allegedly refusing to submit to the discipline.
A memorandum handed to provincial education head Dr Tim Mashinini demanded an immediate end to corporal punishment, improvements in sanitary conditions, an end to public humiliation of pupils and staff, proper hostel and dining facilities, and "value for money".
Shongwe warned that pupils expected government intervention at the school within three-days or pupils would resort to larger and more public protests.
Mashinini praised the pupils for standing up for their rights and for conducting a peaceful protest after normal school hours, before promising an official probe into conditions at the school.
Stressing that corporal punishment was illegal in terms of the SA Schools Act, he added that private schools had greater leeway to implement their own internal disciplinary regulations but still had to obey the law.
"The school will have to answer some difficult questions if anyone has broken they law. But we have to wait until [government] investigates your complaints, because this is currently only one side of the story," said Mashinini.
He also pledged to ensure that pupils at the protest were not intimidated and were allowed back into class.
He said alleged threats that anyone who participated in the protest would be expelled were unacceptable.
"We promise to report back to you within three-days, after we have met with parents and the school," he said.
Cosas urged pupils to return to class until an investigation report was tabled.
Cefups principal Simon Mkhatshwa was unavailable for comment. - African Eye News Service
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