To choose vi­o­lence is to breed bro­ken, ter­ri­fied zom­bies or heart­less in­di­vid­u­als

The East African - - OPINION - JENERALI ULIMWENGU

Avideo has gone vi­ral in South Africa show­ing a teacher se­ri­ously beat­ing up a stu­dent be­fore her class­mates in a Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) school. It has got peo­ple ou­traged, and they have started re­vis­it­ing the old de­bate on the pro­pri­ety of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools, plus a num­ber of other is­sues as well.

The video is dis­turb­ing for a num­ber of is­sues. It de­picts the em­ploy­ment of brute force by an ap­par­ently stronger party against a weaker one in a sit­u­a­tion where there is clearly an im­bal­ance in the vi­o­lence ra­tio. It is also about a male teacher set­ting upon a fe­male learner, which might easily sug­gest sex­ual ha­rass­ment, know­ing th­ese things in our schools across the con­ti­nent.

There was also the at­ti­tude of the other chil­dren, most of who seemed to be laughing at the whole scene, with oth­ers go­ing about their busi­ness un­con­cerned. The ques­tion comes to mind whether this was such a fre­quent hap­pen­ing that the chil­dren had be­come jaded, with some of them tak­ing it as some form of mor­bid en­ter­tain­ment.

The sur­pris­ing thing here is that cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment is il­le­gal in South Africa, which means the teacher in the video was com­mit­ting a crime, al­beit a mis­de­meanour. It must be one of those laws that come on the coat­tails of a pro­gres­sive con­sti­tu­tion, such as the one South Africa gave it­self, but whose im­ple­men­ta­tion runs up against ageold tra­di­tions which die very hard.

South Africa is not alone in this am­biva­lence. In this part of Africa, the de­bate has of­ten been en­gaged on whether this kind of pun­ish­ment should be abol­ished. Some schools have in­deed scrapped the cane, and some have re­stricted it to as to who is en­ti­tled to ap­ply it and in what con­di­tions. But we seem to still be­lieve that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.

In Tan­za­nia we have even seen lo­cal tyrants can­ing grown adults for this or that in­frac­tion, with to­tal im­punity. There is some DNA in our sys­tem which seems to di­rect that who­ever is in a po­si­tion of power has the author­ity to beat up whom­so­ever he or she pleases. The school is the lab­o­ra­tory where such prac­tices are ex­per­i­mented on be­fore they are un­leashed onto the gen­eral pub­lic.

This is ter­ror. The ef­fect of such acts of vi­o­lence is all too of­ten to strike ter­ror in the hearts of the more timid learn­ers that they lose their self con­fi­dence and find school to be a con­cen­tra­tion camp.

In this way we inculcate vi­o­lence in our re­la­tion­ships, and carry it all through our lives. In­di­vid­u­als in power think it is their right to lord it over those with­out power. All free­doms are sub­jected to ap­proval by the ruler, be it at the lo­cal level or at the na­tional level. Protests are pro­scribed and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion is out­lawed ex­cept in heav­ily con­stricted cir­cum­stances. It is the to­tal mil­i­tari­sa­tion of our so­ci­eties.

In the olden days of our po­lit­i­cal in­fancy, this would lead to the mil­i­tary takeovers of govern­ments in many of our coun­tries since our politi­cians, in their ea­ger­ness to bark or­ders, were en­croach­ing on an area that was the pre­serve of the mil­i­tary and the lat­ter were in ef­fect say­ing “We know how to do this thing bet­ter than you lousy civil­ians.”

The days of the mil­i­tary coup d’etat are gone but they have given way to the ubiq­ui­tous re­bel­lions which are borne of po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance, vi­o­lence and marginal­i­sa­tion. It is the norm that when there is a break­down in the so­cial or­der, it is only those who took up arms who are called to the round­table to talk peace. In other words, the mantra could be, no arms, no seat at the peace ta­ble.

We may not re­alise it, but it is clear that we sow the seeds of re­bel­lion in the ten­der psy­ches of the chil­dren who we aban­don at the mercy of teach­ers such as the KZN one we saw in that video. That kind of bru­tal­i­sa­tion does not pro­duce re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens work­ing to pro­mote peace and so­cial

But we seem to still be­lieve that to spare the rod is to spoil the child.” Mil­i­tary coup d’etats are gone but they have given way to the ubiq­ui­tous re­bel­lions which are borne of po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance, vi­o­lence and marginal­i­sa­tion.

co­he­sion. It ei­ther en­gen­ders bro­ken and ter­ri­fied zom­bies who dare not stand up for them­selves, or it man­u­fac­tures hard­ened and heart­less in­di­vid­u­als who will roam the streets with ma­chetes ask­ing, “Short-sleeve or long-sleeve?“

. Jenerali Ulimwengu is chair­man of the board of the Raia Mwema news­pa­per and an ad­vo­cate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: ulimwengu@gmaol.com

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