I hear the phrase “Ngizokushaya!” pretty much every day, which means “I will beat you!” This phrase is communicated between adults to children, children to children and even adults to adults sometimes.
Corporal punishment was outlawed in South Africa in 1996, but still happens on the down low in rural areas. I mentioned corporal punishment a while back when I was a newbie in the village, and talked about how sad it made me when I saw it happen. This was before I had a little more time to sit back and delve into the backward South African culture – a culture where many only respond to violence.
Now, in America, I know you’re disgusted that kids are beaten at school here. You probably think it’s an abomination. Holy hell – what animals, they beat kids in school!
Yes, it’s bad, sad, mad, not a fad, and definitely not rad (my English is getting so bad now that I use the words of a 10-year-old). BUT, as always, there’s a but – it’s cultural.
It literally takes a village to raise a child. Literally. These kids come from huge families, are orphans, raised by old gogos or their fathers work far away in a city. Whatever the reason is, a lot of these kids are from families without two – or any – parents.
Within the village, people consider each other “brothers and sisters” and everyone is “family” even if they aren’t really related because of South African Ubuntu. Thus, any child is anyone’s child, if that makes sense. All the adults are expected to help raise the children at home, in the village and yes – at school.
My younger 27-year-old counterpart told me that parents tell the teachers to beat the kids if they misbehave. They don’t care if it’s illegal because to them this act of abuse will teach the kid a lesson. They give educators their approval and will be mad if they don’t follow through.
I stupidly mentioned to the other grade 5 educator this weekend that my kids never do their English homework, yet they do it in her class.
Then my little grade 5 English speaking anomaly told me today that Ma’am asked her to write down all the student’s names who don’t do my homework.
“We do her homework because she will hit us if we don’t,” my grade 5 said. “The kids will never respect you if you don’t hit them. But if you hit one kid, they will be quiet forever after that.”
Then she asked me why I don’t hit the kids. I told her it was different in my culture and I cannot hit a kid because I wouldn’t feel right doing so. Likewise, I told her it is illegal and if I ever did such a thing I’d be sent back to America.
I’ve seen corporal punishment at my school before – teachers smacking kids with sticks or pipes — but this was the first time a learner actually admitted it happened.
My Peace Corps assignment description has absolutely nothing to do with tackling corporal punishment. I am not here to tell on my school or change it. I simply can’t. The problem is far too big for one person to handle – even showing good behavior management in classes (in my dreams…) won’t change how the adults think because it’s how they’ve thought all their lives and how the people around them think.
One definite challenge for Peace Corps Volunteers is gaining respect in the classroom because many of the classrooms we teach in are battlegrounds of corporal punishment. I haven’t gained respect from the whole class yet, and I don’t know if I honestly ever will. I have, however, a group of about 15 or so loyal learners from my class who like me, speak English to me and try in my class, and that’s fine by me.
I could have a loyal class of 40 if the other grade 5 teacher punishes them, which really puts me in a pickle. Corporal punishment is something I’ve adjusted to and view as commonplace, although I still don’t think it’s right. I don’t want a kid getting beat in my name.
I really wonder if and when corporal punishment will be banished from all South African schools for good. My principal has said before in staff meetings, “No corporal punishment. It is illegal”, which I still have yet to uncover if she knows it’s happening and turns her back on it or the teachers do it behind her back. Also, it’s not like a department official could catch a teacher in action because teachers know when and where to hit a kid; they know not to do it around me even. There’s always a way to get away with it.
This country has a long history of violence from the Apartheid era and sadly, it works; it’s one of the only ways to get work done at school. It’s a vicious cycle of violence that is going to go on forever, unless a younger generation breaks the cycle. I really, really, really wonder. This is just another reason why I want to come back to this country in 30 years and see what has changed and what hasn’t. Seriously, sometimes I forget I’m living in 2013.
One of my other grade 5s who accompanied my anomaly in our corporal punishment conversation gave me a big hug at the end of the day out of nowhere. Maybe that is hope for her generation – maybe she sees corporal punishment the way I do.
Yours in service,