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Durban - A Durban high school principal and one of his teachers have been caught on camera beating pupils who arrived late at their school in Rossburgh this week.
But the headmaster is defiant. The drama will thrust the issue of corporal punishment into the spotlight as teachers battle to maintain discipline at schools.
The Sunday Tribune has dramatic video footage that shows Phambili Secondary School principal Londa Luthuli and an unnamed member of staff lashing pupils who enter the school grounds late.
Corporal punishment, while illegal, is on the rise in schools. The most recent statistics show that there were more than two million cases in 2011, while in a report compiled by the South African Human Rights Commission last year, corporal punishment is described as “common practice”.
The videos, shot on cellphones, show Luthuli and the teacher standing at the school gate in front of quivering children with outstretched hands as a long cane comes sweeping down. In another video, a section of pipe is raised and swept down on their palms.
Some girls scream as they are struck by Luthuli who waves them inside the school grounds.
When confronted, Luthuli admitted he used the rod, as other methods like locking latecomers out had worsened the problem.
Luthuli and the other male staff member are being investigated by Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni.
Nkonyeni’s spokesman, Bhekisisa Mncube, said that, if found guilty, the two could be dismissed.
“Corporal punishment in schools was outlawed by section 10(1) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996. It is a dismissible offence. The matter will be reported to the head of department, who will institute a formal investigation and take appropriation action,” he said.
“We condemn any forms of corporal punishment and discourage educators from engaging in this despicable form of violence,” he said.
Luthuli said that routine lashings were a quick-fix to inherent truancy and late arrival.
“We apply different methods of discipline, where we lock the gates and record the names. If we record the names of latecomers the problem only gets worse. If we close the gates, some children go down to the station, so we had to come up with quick discipline, so that the kids could go to class,” he said.
He said before he became principal two years ago, the school was in disarray. “Pupils would arrive at 10am and leave at lunch to buy food and only half would return.”
He said now 80 percent of pupils made it to school on time.
Luthuli said he was in consultation with neighbouring schools to develop a better discipline strategy.
A Grade 10 pupil, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his long journey to school meant he was often late. “He (Luthuli) hits us on the hand. What can I do – I can’t tell the train driver to go faster. I live far away, I can’t wake up at 3am to get to school,” the teen said.
Teacher Linda Mbatha said he did not support Luthuli’s views on corporal punishment and had tried to report the matter to the circuit manager.
“This behaviour flies in the face of our constitution and as educators, the constitution is something we need to entrench in our students. This paints such a negative picture of the public education sector, giving the impression that teachers can act with impunity and do as they please.”
Parent Thabani Mpongose said Luthuli’s form of discipline was tantamount to assault and was unacceptable.
“I was at a governing body meeting and I raised my concern about this and the principal told us he had stopped. The following day he was filmed doing exactly the same thing. He lied to us. This amounts to criminal assault in the eyes of the law,” Mpongose added.
Glenwood High School principal Trevor Kershaw said that there were other avenues to solve discipline issues. “Corporal punishment is a complete non-starter, it has been illegal for years and I wouldn’t even consider it. In the school I run I don’t need to cane the boys, but this school has very different circumstances than Phambili Secondary,” he said.
“I feel sorry for Luthuli because I think he may have just been trying his hardest to correct a problem of constant latecoming and truancy and he erred. I do not envy his situation at all.”
Chair of the School Governing Body Foundation Diane Gammie said the use of corporal punishment was inexcusable. “There is no basis upon which the Governing Body Foundation can justify or condone corporal punishment in school.
“It is illegal and has been for years. We do, however, understand the frustrations of a principal whose pupils are constantly late and miss school.
“We would encourage the school management team to look at different ways to enforce attendance,” she said.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said parents and children could open cases of assault against teachers who beat them.