To choose violence is to breed broken, terrified zombies or heartless individuals
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: email@example.com