Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga
THERE are things that are best left unsaid/swept under the carpet as it were. Then there are those that just cannot escape scrutiny. Mainly because people hold very strong views about them. In hindsight, the constitutional ban on corporal punishment could have produced the same outcry as the Marriages Bill.
Yet, when a full bench of white-wigged wise ones decided that it was against our constitutional rights, the reaction was one of relief. Perhaps, because we all were at one time or another, victims.
Let me give some context to this. We grew up being beaten as a rule from the time we could comprehend. It was the rule rather than the exception. We knew nothing else. You did wrong, you were beaten, usually by your parents. Simple.
By extension, using the principle of in loco parentis, neighbours, teachers and even strangers used to beat us too! For reasons ranging from being truant, bad language, being naughty, late for class, or for being “dull,” the list is endless.
Our parents beat us because they loved us. That is what they said even though the pain inflicted by the degree of “violence” indicated otherwise. They must have been beaten too in their childhood. So were their parents. We all came from a long line of child abusers. That is when you apply the current liberal constitutional standards.
During the time, this kind of “criminal” behaviour was normal. Even the Holy Bible was used to justify corporal punishment. Spare the rod and spoil the child. There were a litany of demented children assumed to have been related to their parents sparing the rod. As a result, it was felt as a right to beat up one’s own children and there was no debate about it. Even the whites did it. They all whacked their kids, if they were not whacking blacks on the side. These were the days of segregation, remember.
When we grew up, it was our mother who did the beating. And she was pretty good at it too! The maids would even threaten to tell her if we were uncontainable. That is if they were not beating us themselves. Our maids were outright terrorists if you ask me. They would whack us for no good reason, then pass us on for another round of maternal beating when mum came from work. That was pure evil.
That would buy them our silence when they did despicable things round the house such as smuggling their relatives and boyfriends into the house when our parents were at work. To this day, I wonder how we survived the trauma.
I remember vividly celebrating wildly when a particularly evil maid was fired. Only to have the festivities cut short on discovering that her replacement had degrees in child violence! When we had our children, I consciously cut the long tradition of abuse. I could not bear raising a hand against my own. If at all, their mother would only go as far as threatening them with a switch to get their corporation.
When I went into teaching, beating up kids was not my forte. This was in spite of witnessing some of the most callous thrashing during primary school. Slaps and kicks were administered liberally and so was the dreaded caning by teachers and groundsmen. It was the norm rather than the exception.
At high school, one famed headmaster caned the whole school! Just to show how ridiculous it all was, some teachers who got in the way got kicked and punched too! When I became senior master at a school located in a rough part of the city, I was supposed to act tough. Otherwise, the head told me, the kids would walk all over me so I had to conform. There was an unwritten rule that senior teachers had to be mean. I failed disastrously in that department, though those that did cross my path would regret it. They discovered, to their peril, that still waters did run deep. But it wrecked me emotionally when I laid a hand on someone’s child, I would later bring them aside and tell them it was for their own good. As if it made things any better.
Going to teach in Sweden detoxified me of any traces of that kind of state sanctioned child abuse. I would have been thrown in jail if I had touched someone’s child over there. When I came back, I was stripped of my position of senior molester. I assumed it was because I had gone too soft and it was bad for discipline in the school.
Yet in the midst of all the beating, gang activities flared up in the neighbourhood grabbing newspaper headlines. It pointed to the fact that corporal punishment was not working. If at all it had the opposite effect. The situation just became ungovernable.
Gang members were targeting teachers who were known to be particularly vicious. Violence, in a sense, begets more violence. Only the intervention of the police brought sanity after a significant period of gang terror.
Looking back, the constitutional ban on corporal punishment was long overdue. Honestly, I fail to understand how one can beat misdemeanour out of a child. That is, without implanting the same traits and perpetuating the violence. Food for thought?