Lovemore Chikova Assistant Editor
The outlawing of judicial corporal punishment by the Constitutional Court (Concourt) recently left me reminiscing about how we endured such punishment in school, albeit with very little gains.
What makes the Concourt ruling more significant is that it came after the High Court outlawed corporal punishment, both at school and at home.
From my experience in primary school, I have every reason to celebrate such milestones, for corporal punishment made school dreadful for many of us who did their primary in the 1980s.
No research had been carried out to justify the thinking that a school child grasps concepts much quicker after a beating, yet teachers continued to brutalise schoolchildren in the hope of achieving better educational results.
During our time in primary school, one would rarely return home without having been lashed for one reason or the other.
It seemed lashing and sometimes hard general work were considered as normal forms of punishment at school, with the goals of making children grasp issues faster and instilling discipline.
Whether these goals were achieved or not remains the subject of a much bigger debate, suffice to say in our case some of those regularly beaten up continued to fail and to be ill-disciplined.
It was clear that our teachers put most of their faith in the stick.
Almost every teacher at our school kept dried bamboo sticks which they used to lash your bottoms, hands or back with much vigour, making school look like some sort of a torture camp.
We were very young, but we had learnt to accept whipping and slapping as a matter of school life.
You would be thoroughly beaten up for making the slightest of mistakes, and usually the teachers did not seek an explanation from you.
You would be whipped for arriving at school a few minutes after lessons started. It did not occur to the teachers that some of the young children were walking distances of up to nearly 10 kilometres to reach the school.
Failure to grasp a concept, no matter how difficult, would invite a thorough caning from the teacher.
We had become accustomed to the reality of life that the introduction of a new concept would always be accompanied by a bamboo stick, and the beating would become ferocious as the chapter progressed.
You were lashed for failing to recite the multiplication table correctly, you would also get the same punishment for failing to divide, multiply, subtract or add one sum by another.
The beating would come if you fail to spell words correctly, including English words most of which we were encountering for the first time.
Our plight was worsened by that our teachers used to favour the most difficult of English words. For instance, our Grade 3 teacher pitched up one of the days with his bamboo stick in hand. From nowhere, he started picking each one of us asking us to spell the word flabbergasted.
We had never encountered such a word, and it followed that no one got it correct. We were all lined up and got a thorough beating.
All our Shona textbooks were written in the Zezuru dialect, but as Karanga dialect speakers we were expected to switch to the textbook language.
As a result, you could be smacked for writing the word “zhara” in Karanga dialect in your Shona composition, instead of the textbook prescribed “nzara” or for writing “gwendo” instead of “rwendo”.
Words like nzara and rwendo were new to us, but we were supposed to grasp them at first encounter or else the bamboo stick would be used. You would be spanked if your parents failed to provide you with a school uniform. You would also bear the brunt if the parents did not provide materials like plastic and khaki covers for textbooks and exercise books.
The headmaster would even call out those who had not paid school fees and give them a beating, while pitching up at school without the tools of the trade like ballpoint pens and pencils invited a similar fate.
In short, we were made to suffer for the “sins” of our parents who were responsible for providing the school fees, uniforms and other learning materials.
The most embarrassing episode was when one would be called out during assembly time and get beaten up, mostly by the headmaster, in view of the whole school.
You would know that once this happens, you would be talk of the school for the whole term and the thought of returning to school the following day became unbearable.
In fact, whipping made school miserable for most of the pupils during that time.
Then we had this teacher in Grade 4 who would make sure that at the start of the day’s class, he would give us very difficult concepts which he knew we would not easily grasp.
And every failure to grasp the concepts was followed by a thorough beating, and it had become like a norm that the teacher would beat us up at the start of school almost every day.
The same teacher would ask you to bring some craft work to school, and we knew that no matter how hard you tried to curve something good, there was no way you would impress him.
Everyone would get a beating for “failing” to curve a good craft work, yet we were not established artists who could produce something perfect.
Reporting the beating at home would result in further lashing by the parent, who would sometimes come to school to personally encourage the teacher to beat you up more for your failures.
Corporal punishment resulted in some of our classmates just slipping away from school, some opting for menial work like becoming herd-boys.
And there was this classmate of ours nicknamed Goriati, the name mainly driven from his huge stature.
Goriati would sometimes openly challenge teachers if they attempted to wallop him, even when all of us would have received our share of the day.
One day we were tasked to write a Shona composition, and Goriati chose to write about his girlfriend.
The paragraph that incensed the teacher was when Goriati wrote that each time he looked at the male teacher, he would imagine he was looking at his girlfriend.
The teacher brought out his bamboo stick, but afraid Goriati would overpower him, he called out for reinforcements from teachers in nearby classrooms.
The teachers teamed up and started lashing Goriati, who now seemed to be worried more about escaping than resisting.
When he got loose, he bolted out, with the teachers in hot pursuit.
We all streamed out of the classroom to watch the drama unfold.
When he was at a safe distance, Goriati climbed an anthill and swore at the teachers. That was the last time we saw him at school.
Sometimes schoolchildren in upper grades would try their revenge at the teachers following incessant beatings.
One of the teachers notorious for administering corporal punishment was supervising pupils carrying bricks to a building site one of the days.
He beat up a pupil for not moving fast enough, but the pupil unexpectedly picked a brick and hit the teacher on the head.
Word soon spread to the whole school that the notorious teacher had been “killed” by the pupil.
We rushed to the scene, only to discover that he had picked himself up, but was evidently in great pain. The following day, the culprit was called out during assembly time by the headmaster. He was given a thorough lashing in front of everyone.
After that, he disappeared from school, and the next time we heard about him he had enrolled at another school.
When we started Grade One, we had heard about this teacher who was a choir master at the school.
Our seniors had many stories about his abusive behaviour, including that he would bring chicken droppings to the choir practice and throw them into the mouth of those he thought were in discord.
When our chance came to join the choir, the teacher had transferred to another school in the area, so we never got to experience the barbaric punishment.
Closing day was our happiest at school, for it was the day we were being let loose from the constant beatings of the whole term.
We had a specially reserved song for the day, which each class would burst into on closing day.
We would sing: “yuwi yuwiii toenda kunozorora, goodbye ma teacher, toenda kunozorora” (goodbye teachers, we are now going on holiday).
Indeed, we were going on break from school, but more significantly the entertainment in the song was on saying goodbye to the lashing.
Yet, the goodbye was just for a while, within the next few weeks we would troop back to the same school, the same teachers and the same bamboo sticks.
It was like a vicious cycle.
The ruling on corporal punishment by the Constitutional Court is thus significant, for it protects the rights of children.
It has always been a misnomer that if adults beat each other up it is called assault and the courts of law intervene, but when adults beat up children, sometimes even causing grievous bodily harm, it is called disciplining.
Corporal punishment has no place in modern day and age, and more needs to be done to ensure it is totally eradicated.