Matric rape question defended

Published Nov 27, 2013

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Durban - The Department of Basic Education has defended a controversial question in Monday’s Dramatic Arts paper involving the rape of a 9-month-old baby - but said if the pupils’ responses showed they had been adversely affected, the question would be excluded.

The compulsory question, part of a 15-mark section based on an extract from South African play, Tshepang, asks pupils to describe how they would stage the raping of a baby using a loaf of bread and a broomstick to “maximise the horror of the rape to the audience”.

Professor Labby Ramrathan, associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Education, described it as a “highly inappropriate question” for a matric exam paper. “We must be clear about the nature of current social conditions, but this should be for discussion, not for examination purposes.”

Ramrathan said, if discussed in a controlled classroom environment, it would be more appropriate.

Although there were several reactions from pupils on social media expressing shock at the question, others felt it was not wholly inappropriate.

A Grade 12 pupil at a Durban boys’ school said he did not find the question “terribly offensive”.

“I think (these issues) should rather be known than not. It was a bit of a shock and maybe a bit hectic for a matric paper, but at the end of the day these things do happen.”

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesman for the Department of Basic Education, came out in defence of the question, stating there was no enactment of rape.

“A question in the paper based on an extract from the play, which has won national and international awards, highlights and interrogates a real event that was headlined in the media and that disturbed the nation, the horrific rape of a 9-month-old baby.”

He said the question focused on a key moment in the play, in which the audience was faced with the dramatic arts concept of an “action metaphor”.

“Instead of raping a baby or showing or describing the rape, the symbols of a loaf of bread and a broomstick are used to represent and resemble the brutal act of the rape.

“The horror and aversion the audience feels is achieved without resorting to an actual rape.

“The candidate has to work out the best way to achieve this theatrically and symbolically.

“Nowhere is it expected of the candidate to have to literally describe the actual act of raping a 9-month-old baby.”

Mhlanga said the aspects tested in the question were as per the curriculum and all the papers were approved by external quality assurance council, Umalusi.

“Grade 12 learners are young adults who are fully aware of the social issues confronting our country and dramatic arts, like all other art forms, are powerful vehicles for creating social awareness and education to societal issues that need to be addressed to bring about change,” Mhlanga said.

However, Mhlanga said the department acknowledged that in exams, content invoking negative emotions should be avoided, but given the nature and content of the subject, it is assumed pupils were familiar with such passages and could deal with emotions relating to the matter.

“To ensure that no candidate has been negatively affected, the department will mark a sample of the scripts of learners from all nine provinces, as it does with all question papers, after they are written, to establish any possible disadvantage to the candidates.

“If there is evidence that candidates have been affected by this question, the question will be excluded from the question paper and the marking guidelines will be adjusted accordingly.”

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