Angie Motshekga warns that there shall be no mercy for any teacher who dabbles in violent conduct in the classroom.
The Sowetan front page lead story (18 February 2015,) titled “Pupil (8) dies after hose-pipe assault,” has reference. Firstly, as the Ministry of Basic Education, we send our heartfelt condolences to the family of Nthabiseng Mtambo (8) who allegedly died as a result of hose-pipe assault on the head by a teacher at Reatile Primary School in the Free State province.
Secondly, I am saddened by the fact it seems the school principal is complicit in this matter as no action has been taken against the perpetrator. In this regard, I have instructed the Free State Provincial Education authorities to expedite investigation into the matter and ensure that there is justice for Nthabiseng.
I am disappointed that although corporal punishment has been outlawed in our schools, the practice still continues. There is no single teacher or principal who has not been informed that corporal punishment is expressly forbidden. This sad practice even led to the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) to make a call for all learners to retaliate in the face of corporal punishment. We took the call seriously and held various engagements with various stakeholders, teachers included on alternative forms of discipline.
At the risk of repeating myself, I am making a fresh call to all teachers to refrain from any form of corporal punishment at all times.
I must state categorically that it is immaterial whether Nthabiseng died as a direct result of the hose-pipe assault. What is material and appalling is that there is evidence that corporal punishment was administered regularly on her and other learners. This is despite numerous warning to teachers to desist from such barbaric practice because it is an affront to the inherent right of learners to dignity. Section 12 of the South African Constitution states that: “Everyone has the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.”
In terms of our legislative framework in the basic education, corporal punishment is expressly prohibited. Both the National Education Policy Act (1996) and the South African Schools Act (1996) say, “No person shall administer corporal punishment or subject a student to psychological or physical abuse at any educational institution.” The South African Schools Act goes further and criminalises the practice. It states, “Any person who (practices corporate punishment) is guilty of an offense, and is liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.”
These two pieces of legislation that outlaws corporal punishment have even passed the constitutional muster. In April 2000, the Constitutional Court heard the arguments in a case of CESA versus the State. The court ruled that corporal punishment is unconstitutional and a violation of the Bill of rights. It stated that, the prohibition of corporal punishment is part and parcel of a national programme to transform the education system and to bring it into line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
The judgement fortified our belief that a coherent and principled system of discipline is integral to such development not violence. In addition, South Africa is a signatory to both the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These two charters commits its member countries to take practical measures including legislative ones to protect the child’s inherent right to dignity and both abhors violence against children.
Over the years, we have grappled with alternative forms of discipline within a school environment. In our latest Discipline Summit held in March 2014, we came up with several civilised forms of instilling discipline in the classroom. We agreed on the following package to address the challenge:
- Create a culture of caring, respect, patriotism and non-violence and shift attitudes and negative environments. Children must be taught good judgement and morality.
- Inculcate ethics of care. This is a basic need of all human beings and education is central to cultivating a caring society.
- Promote holistic education that includes values, good citizenship morals and social justice for all.
- Encourage inter-connectedness as a fundamental principle of education. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
- Research more on how to teach learners about making positive choices even after they have made wrong choices. It is possible to un-learn negative behaviour and make positive choices. Make expectations of the learners clear.
In conclusion, there shall be no mercy for any teacher who dabbles in violent conduct in the classroom. We call upon the law enforcement agencies to ensure that cases involving corporal punishment meted against learners be prioritised. We eagerly await the outcome of the police investigation in the case of the late Nthabiseng. Her death should galvanise all of us into action to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. May her beautiful soul so rest in peace!
Mrs Angie Motshekga is the Minister of Basic Education