Corporal punishment is illegal in South Africa.
I would encourage school pupils who are still being physically abused by their teachers to do the same today. And now, unlike us back then, you have the law on your side, writes Glenn Bownes.
Reading the News24 report by Jenni Evans about alleged corporal punishment at Paarl Boys’ High School made me angry – really angry – and brought back a flood of memories of the physical assaults I and my fellow pupils endured at school in the early 1980s.
I went to Cradock Hoërskool/High School between 1980-84. My father, a Baptist minister, was moved from Johannesburg to the small Karoo town the previous year.
For a “rooinek, Engelsman, soutie”, it was quite a culture shock. Not only having to quickly learn to speak Afrikaans (which I am grateful for today), but also being confronted by a culture of physical abuse that I had never experienced before.
I had never been hit by a teacher or principal at the primary school I attended in Johannesburg. My parents, while being both staunch Calvinist Christians, hadn’t used “the rod” much either. I can remember my dad smacking me once, and my mother stopped after breaking her last wooden spoon on my hand.
I started my Cradock schooling at the primary school in Standard 5 (Grade 7). And that is where I was first called into a principal’s office for a caning. The principal made me bend over a desk and then hit me three times on the arse with his cane. He then made me thank him.
While this only happened once in my final year of primary school, it was a sign of what was to come when I went to high school in 1980.
From virtually the first month of high school, I and many of my fellow pupils, were beaten by teachers on almost a weekly basis.
Sometimes, we would be called in to the principal’s office, where the two deputy-principals – who we dubbed Hitler and Goering – would take visible pleasure in beating the shit out of us.
Sometimes we would only hit twice (if we were “lucky”), other times it would be “six of the best”. Always, you would leave the office with welts on your bum and blood in your pants.
We weren’t always called into the office to be assaulted. Teachers would strut around their classrooms armed with canes, sticks and cricket bats, lashing out at us at will.
The same would happen at rugby practice and on “cadet days”, when we would march around in khaki shorts and shirts to prepare us to fight the “swart gevaar” and the “communist onslaught”.
It was on one of these cadet days, in the middle of a freezing Cradock winter, and near the end of our Standard 9 year, that myself and three of my friends decided we were not going to take it anymore.
The thermometer approached zero degrees that morning. So, some of us decided to wear our long grey pants instead of the short khaki ones.
We were immediately called into the principal’s office by Hitler and Goering.
As the four of us stood there as the two sadistic bullies screamed at us and told us to “bend”, something snapped in us.
First, my one friend shouted: “Fuck you! No more!”
Then each one of us in turn told them in no uncertain terms where to get off.
We told them that they could try and hit us, but that we would, from now on, hit back.
Hitler’s face went a strange purple colour. He was spitting mad.
Goering, who was slightly more articulate, looked at me and my friends with shock written all over his face.
Then he shouted: “Just get out! Now!”
We duly obliged.
The two little cowards never touched us again. And nor did any other teacher.
But the abuse that we suffered at their hands still makes me angry whenever I think about those sadistic little men.
Just writing this, some 35 years later, brought back a lot of the fear, anger and pain inflicted by them on myself and other children.
But I also feel proud that we eventually stood up to them.
I would encourage school pupils who are still being physically abused by their teachers to do the same today. And now, unlike us back then, you have the law on your side.
– Bownes is chief sub-editor at News24.
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