This, and the lack of political will to enforce the law, is why corporal punishment continues to be inflicted in schools 20 years after it was outlawed.
A study last year in KwaZulu-Natal found that pupils see corporal punishment as part of a teacher’s role.
“Especially with African learners, some like that sort of punishment. They seem to prefer that to having their parents called to the school,” a teacher told academics from the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“Sometimes learners, particularly black learners, will encourage the teacher to beat them, pointing out that they are misbehaving because they are not beaten. When I first came to this school, they used to encourage me to beat them as their previous teacher did,” the teacher is quoted as saying.
The principal of one of the schools involved in the study, which are not identified, told the researchers: “The main problem is that the law is against something which has been done for centuries. The parents use [corporal punishment] at home. These learners know how they are punished at home when they misbehave.”
A pupil at one of the schools said violence was part of his culture.
“We are beaten all the time. Teachers use a hose pipe.”
Stefanie Röhrs, a senior researcher at the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, said teachers continued to use corporal punishment because there was “no accountability or enforcement of the law”.
The SA Council of Educators, which registers teachers, said in its annual report last year that 267 cases of corporal punishment and assault were reported to it in the year to the end of March.
But council CEO Rej Brijraj said many complaints were abandoned.
“It can happen that you have a slow response rate … which often leads to people giving up on pursuing the matter,” he said.
The deputy secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union in KwaZulu-Natal, Bheki Shandu, said teachers and schools lacked support from the Department of Basic Education in dealing with the situations that led to corporal punishment.
But department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said it was “narrow-minded” to blame the department.
“We really need parents to play a major role. The teaching of values starts at home and not at school. In school we only continue the tasks that should have been started by parents from the time their children are born.”
Röhrs linked the issue to corporal punishment in the home, saying the Children’s Institute was frustrated that, despite 10 years of effort, the law still did not prevent parents beating their children.
A clause in the 2007 amendment to the Children’s Act would have prohibited corporal punishment in the home but the clause was removed before the amendment was passed.
Last week France passed a law banning parents from spanking.
Indications in 2014 by the South African government that it would ban spanking in the home have come to nothing.
Röhrs said critics feared that a legal ban on smacking would lead to parents being prosecuted for disciplining their children, but this was not the intended purpose.
But Jean van Rooyen, Gauteng manager of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, said violence experienced outside school was not necessarily transferred to classrooms.
If students were occupied constructively, engaged in their work and had passionate teachers, then discipline problems would not be as much of an issue, she said.
Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the education department in Western Cape – where most corporal punishment cases (171) were reported in 2015-2016 – said it was “important to realise poor behaviour is a Band-Aid that reflects deeper issues”.
“We need to ask ourselves why the child is behaving in a certain way. Our goal is not to manage bad behaviour but to change it.”
Writing in the SA Journal of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal academics Sekitla Makhasane and Vitallis Chikoko said their study had found that leadership was usually the “missing link” when teachers resorted to corporal punishment.
“It is doubly paradoxical that within schools there are teachers who show potential to lead the fight against corporal punishment, but that this potential is not exploited; and that some learners still see the place of corporal punishment, where they ought to be fighting it.”