On Thursday, 22 September 2011, Malibongwe Melani, a Grade 12 learner at Chris Hani High School in Khayelitsha, was assaulted by two Bambanani security guards on the school grounds. Melani is currently admitted at the Tygerberg Hospital. The school’s principal, Madoda Mahlutshana, was present at the attack.
Equal Education (EE) has collected eyewitness statements of the attack, including from the assaulted learner, one of the assailants, and two student eyewitnesses. It is unclear whether or not Mr Mahlutshana ordered the attack on Melani. It is clear, however, that Mr Mahlutshana:
- was present at the scene of the attack
- did not intervene to stop the attack
- did not call for medical assistance for Malibongwe Melani.
Whether Mr Mahlutshana ordered the attack or not, it seems unlikely that the Bambanani security guards would have beaten a learner in the presence of the school principal unless they felt they were carrying out his wishes.
As the person ultimately responsible for the safety of learners and staff at the school, this is a serious indictment against Mr Mahlutshana.
One eyewitness stated that Malibongwe Melani begged Mr Mahlutshana to stop the Bambanani beating him but that the principal shook his head to say “no.” The beating continued.
EE has been monitoring the situation at the school. Learners and community members are demanding the immediate dismissal of Mr Mahlutshana. EE agrees that principals or teachers found guilty of inflicting, ordering or aiding corporal punishment, should be dismissed, and criminally charged. There is no room for such principals and teachers in our education system.
The practice of corporal punishment remains widespread in South Africa. A study conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (2006) found that corporal punishment was reported as having occurred in more than half of the schools investigated (51.4%).
The Law is clear. Corporal punishment at schools is unconstitutional and illegal in South Africa, and constitutes a criminal offence. Section 10 of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 stipulates that “(a) No person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner; and (b) Any person who contravenes this is guilty of an offence, and liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.”
In 2000, the Constitutional Court, in Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education (2000), upheld Section 10 of the School Act. The Court held that corporal punishment at schools violates the fundamental right to human dignity, as well as the right to freedom and security of the person. This includes:
- the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources
- the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way; and
- he right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to security in and control of their body.
In Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education, the Constitutional Court emphasised that the State is “under a constitutional duty to take steps to help diminish the amount of public and private violence in society generally and to protect all people and especially children from maltreatment, abuse or degradation.”
As such, EE calls on the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to:
- Immediately announce publicly the process by which this matter is to be thoroughly investigated
- Make the findings of the investigation public
- Act decisively to immediately dismiss Mr Mahlutshana if he is found guilty
- Run a mass campaign on corporal punishment in schools and communities
The police investigation, and prosecution, must also consider the vicarious liability of the employers. Mr Mahlutshana is employed by the Western Cape Education Department, and the Bambanani are employed by the Western Cape Department of Community Safety.
While the learners and parents of Chris Hani High School are rightfully angry, EE urges all concerned not to retaliate. Turning to violence and vandalism in order to condemn a violent act is counter-productive, and would only exacerbate the many problems we face in our schools.
On Tuesday, 27 September, a learner at Chris Hani High School was carrying a placard stating: “We want to be safe at school.” This is the right of every learner. We call on Government, learners, parents, teachers and community members to ensure that this right is realised in every school in South Africa, and that the cruel and unconstitutional act of corporal punishment comes to a swift and decisive end.
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