It once appeared in my high school student’s magazine,1 that a certain housemaster frequently did the rounds through the dormitories, propelled by cane sprits. Ne’er is a truer word spoken than in jest, for neither part of the anecdote was apocryphal.

Canings, meted out as a form of punishment, were regular. Certainly, bullying and mockery, in general, probably have a propensity to leave greater impressions than the odd lashing with a four foot, medium weight, police stock cane,2 and there was a momentary heroism amongst the men-in-waiting, mostly, to have been on the receiving end.

However, let it be said, poor discretion and even savagery did find their way into the system of school corporal punishment. Cane and other spirits, ill-discipline, irresponsibility, and probably sheer sadism saw to that.3

The banning of corporal punishment in our schools is not the only object of the South African Schools Act 1996, although that purpose is achieved. Administered by the Minister of Basic Education, it is intended to provide for a uniform system for the organisation, governance and funding of schools, and it applies to all schools, whether ‘government’ or ‘private’.

The Act addresses topics such as initiation practices, drug testing, codes of conduct, language policies, school fees, expulsion, governing bodies, and the like. Corporal punishment is the only facet of school life which is outlawed.

  1. It is a criminal offence to administer corporal punishment4 at school to a learner.5
  1. It was a termly publication at Falcon College, called ‘The Peregrine’, authored and printed by students. 

  2. I do not make light of it. I saw and experienced irrational caning. There again, I also saw and experienced mockery and bullying. It was boarding school, after all. 

  3. I witnessed the latter, I believe. The perpetrator has meantime rumbled on to the great classroom in the sky. 

  4. Corporal punishment is not defined. Seeing as ‘corporal’ comes from the Latin word ‘corpus’, which means ‘body’, it is likely that corporal punishment is any punishment meted out on one’s body: slapping, biting, caning, hitting, kicking, pinching, wringing, and even my Form 1 master’s ‘Chinese torture No. 1’ – getting yanked out of one’s chair by the side-burns, or whatever hair there was in front of the right ear. 

  5. Section 10(2) read with section 10(1).