King Goodwill Zwelithini’s recent remarks have forced back on the agenda the issue of corporal punishment in schools. There have been spikes in the use of corporal punishment by teachers across the country despite the practice being a dismissible offence.
Speaking to teachers and members of the school governing body (SGBs) at Esikhawini TVET College near Empangeni, the king said some of the problems schools are experiencing are due to the fact that corporal punishment has been done away with.
“These laws do affect us negatively because children have to be corrected,” said Zwelithini. “That child”, continued the king, “would say, I will not make a mistake, I will listen and I will do my homework.”
He, however, qualified this by saying teachers should not apply corporal punishment excessively, adding that teachers play a key parental in the lives of the learners.
South African Schools Act clearly prohibits teachers from administering corporal punishment on learners as a corrective or disciplinary measure. Ironically, KwaZulu-Natal province recently recorded a high number of cases related to the continued use of corporal punishment by teachers in schools. Most of these were captured live on videos that went viral.
Teachers’ views are split on the issue, with advocates of the practice arguing that using corporal punishment helps maintain some semblance of order and instil discipline in the learners. While those who oppose it reckon that teachers have to explore alternative and progressive measures other than inflicting physical harm on the learners.
Speaking to Inside Education on the subject recently, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union’s spokesperson in KZN, Nomarashiya Caluza, said while they are aware corporal punishment was done away it, its continued use has to do with “frustration” teachers experience at school level. She blamed the decline in discipline among the learners, adding that when teachers are faced with learners who consistently misbehave, some of them resort to using corporal punishment as a remedy.
There are concerns that, given his influence and stature, king Zwelithini’s call to re-introduce corporal punishment may lead to even more teachers adopting the outlawed practice. KZN MEC for education, Mthandeni Dlungwana, took a firm stand against teachers who use corporal punishment. He said he cannot believe why teachers continue to administer corporal punishment even though it was revoked 20 years ago.
King Zwelithini has lately taken keen interest in education and has typically not held back even if his views may be seen to be controversial. In August, while addressing a gathering of principals and school governing bodies in Ulundi, he lambasted principals for lack of disclipline in schools, saying they should work and not blame apartheid for the learners’ poor performance. He also condemned strongly interference by teachers union as well as reports of the sale of teachers and principal’s posts.
Said the king: “In some areas the word teacher has become synonymous with drunkard. The profession is in danger of losing its integrity because there are many who enter the profession because they are seeking employment. Teaching is not a place to hide, it is a calling.”