The look on Mrs Sithole’s face as she approached me was enough to tell me disaster was looming. She was angry. I could not understand, though, where her anger had emanated from. The details of that Friday of 1998 are now sketchy but I know it was a Friday because the following day I attended catechism class at my local church.
We were all on our knees; some of my classmates were shining the classroom floor while I and others had wooden sticks in our hands solving mathematical problems. (By the way, I was the youngest in my class, having held a funeral wake at the school premises when I was told I was too young).
She screamed at me, “Uyenzani?!”
The moment she demanded to know what I was doing, I picked myself up quickly and at that moment, head-on collided with her back hand blow and fell to the floor, releasing three droplets of urine in the process.
I cried in the toilet emptying what was left of my Grade 2 bladder. I cried on my way home and cried when I saw my mother. I cried myself to sleep that night and made a vow to transfer to another school.
Corporal punishment and Zimbabwean law
A story in the Chronicle of a teacher who was arraigned before the courts for abusing a pupil brought back memories of this day. What made the story even more unbearable was that fact that it came months after a ruling by Justice Esther Muremba earlier this year which outlawed corporal punishment on children, as was previously permitted by the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. One should also take note that the judgement by Justice Muremba also importantly highlighted the fact that Section 53 of the Constitution absolutely outlaws corporal punishment in all environments which include the home, school and courts.
While people in the child rights sector applauded the ruling, the general public – and some sections of the education sector – bemoaned the outright ban as unsuitable for the Zimbabwean context. Also, many parents who encourage corporal punishment vehemently criticised the move by government to ban it in schools. This said, however, many of the same parents have gone to schools threatening to get teachers arrested when their children have come home with injuries.
Contradictions and controversies
This scenario points out the contradictions that often arise in debates about corporal punishment and the questions that accompany it. I believe the stick was effective in disciplining us while we were at school; the peach whip from our trees at home was a good way of ensuring that we tried by all means to walk religiously on the right paths.
For instance, when corporal punishment is used what are the limitations? Can control be placed over the type of tools to use to administer this form of punishment? If we cannot find appropriate solutions, then we should all together do away with trying to use this as a form of disciplining children.
The bottom line is that the psychological effects of using extreme methods of punishment can be dire on the growth of children. Here, I am reminded of my brother, whom in Grade Five, came home with all sorts of pinch scars from school; he would say the teacher had long nails which she used on the pupils’ ears. As a result, he cried a lot and we struggled to take him to school that year.
Since Mrs Sithole, I have received many other beatings; for late submissions, unwritten homework, failing and noise-making. But none of these do I remember as vividly as that day. This is because up to today, I feel Mrs Sithole abused me. She mistreated me, using her hands on me in an uncalled for, cruel and improper way.
What we need is realism when dealing with issues like this that have been part of our lives for too long. We will go nowhere if we continue reading about injuries to children from the press while a number of us shout, “Stop corporal punishment!” to no avail.
It is time for a clear decision to be made and relevant stakeholders to action it!
Main image shared from www.heritageradiott.com