Johannesburg - The ongoing use of corporal punishment in South Africa is a reflection of its society, the basic education department said on Thursday.
“What happens in schools is a reflection of our society,” said James Ndlebe, the basic education department's director of education management and governance.
“We acknowledge that these things are truly happening in our schools.”
Corporal punishment involves using force to inflict pain and discomfort on a child.
Speaking at the SA Human Rights Commission's (SAHRC) conference in Johannesburg on ending corporal punishment in schools, Ndlebe said teachers were becoming increasingly distressed about discipline levels.
“Corporal punishment is one of the many challenges facing our schools,” he said.
“...Attempts have been made by the department of 1/8basic 3/8 education to maintain discipline in our schools.”
He said following the conference, a task team would be established to look at the recommendations that emerged from it.
The department had organised a discipline summit for key role players to discuss the problem, to be held in Boksburg east of Johannesburg, in March.
Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, a senior professor at the University of the Western Cape's law faculty, told the conference:
“South Africa is an extremely violent society. Violence is not a rogue and renegade occurrence but routine.”
She said studies done at a pan-African level showed that countries much poorer than South Africa had less occurrences of corporal punishment, suggesting the problem was not rooted in poverty.
“The problem lies with an active practise and a culture of impunity,” Sloth-Nielsen said.
“...Children are simply not regarded as people.”
Education specialist Faranaaz Veriava said studies, while premised on different methodologies, showed significant support among teachers for corporal punishment's return, in part due to a lack of alternatives.
Also, it appeared cases of corporal punishment were higher in areas where more parents supported it.
It appeared the more urbanised provinces had better enforcement mechanisms when tackling the problem.
“The Western Cape seems to be the only province that has the only binding procedure in dealing with corporate punishment,” she said.
Corporal punishment went hand in hand with the failure of due process, with there being no uniform way of dealing with it from province to province.
Earlier, SAHRC chairman Lawrence Mushwana said corporal punishment was a violation of children's rights.
“South Africa abolished corporal punishment in September 1997, and 16 years later corporal punishment is being applied by some educators,” he said.
“It is therefore of grave concern that there are still schools that administer corporal punishment. Corporal punishment must be ended as it violates the learners' right to education and dignity.”
He said action taken against those who applied corporal punishment was disproportionate to the damage done to children.
This message was echoed by SAHRC commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, who said figures from 2012 indicated that 2.2 million children were subjected to corporal punishment in South Africa.
“That just tells you the extent of corporal punishment in our country,” she said.