Slap an adult = bad! Slap a kid = good!
'We were beaten and we turned out just fine,' argue adults in favour of corporal punishment — but did we really?
The first time I was slapped across the face I must have been eight or nine. I have no way of knowing for sure because I think that slap disturbed my brain's hard drive and wiped out about 800 terabytes of memory. Apparently it's all because I'd looked at Skhumbuzo (the fellow who took away my klap virginity) funny. Later, he invoked the fact that I walked like I thought that my poop smelled like Airoma air freshener since our house had electricity installed and my dad bought a Mazda 323.
These thoughts went through my mind last week when SA experienced that mini orgy of klaps recorded on camera. First it was the teacher from the Sans Souci Girls School in Rondebosch, Cape Town. Watching that teacher unleash that hot klap immediately triggered memories of the dozens of slaps I have witnessed in my years inside Bantu Education classrooms.
The first time I witnessed a slap across the face inside a classroom, I was a five-year-old, in Grade One. Ma'am Ndlovu slapped a classmate called Wiseman so hard he seemed to levitate like a character in The Poltergeist, before being flung clear across the classroom.
Thinking about it years later, it occurs to me that Wiseman couldn't have been older than six or seven. I have cupped the faces of my six-year-old kids in my hands and I struggled to understand how any adult could find a face that tiny slap-worthy.
And then I remember that I also witnessed a Grade One classmate at Esihonqeni Lower Primary in Hammarsdale lose an eye in the same classroom in a freak accident. By "freak accident" I mean that Miss Mbekeni was minding her business, reinforcing some key educational concept via vicious strokes delivered upon our miniature palms, exposed backs and tiny buttocks. This is when she lost control of her "teaching aid", nearly gouging out the poor girl's eyeball from its socket.
After the Sans Souci incident it didn't take too long before I was involved in a nasty, ill-tempered pissing match with some of my Facebook friends.
I've always suspected that if the government was dumb enough to call a referendum on whether corporal punishment should be scrapped in schools and at home or not, the Nays would win by a landslide. But what I have never fully appreciated is the deep, smouldering passion folks harbour for their "God-given" right to beat the living crap out of their children. This is ostensibly to instil "discipline".
The second slap is from last week. It occurred in no more august a setting than our National Assembly, when EFF MP Marshall Dlamini is shown delivering a mammoth one on a plain-clothes police officer during a scuffle between the Red Berets and the police.
I waited for the questions about what the copper might have said to deserve that slap. Had he been belligerent towards the EFF posse? Bad mannered? Ill-disciplined? Had he back-chatted? It's a good thing that I didn't hold my breath while waiting because I would have gone blue, keeled over and wandered to the land of the ancestors.
I was left with the only logical conclusion. Slap an adult = bad! Slap a kid = good! After all, you're ironing out the kinks in the child's character, one blow at a time. This is usually followed by the coup de grâce and ultimate debate ender: "We were beaten and we turned out just fine." I can't disagree with that watertight logic if "fine" means being one of the most violent societies in the world where we murder about 57 times a day and men rape over 40% of the women in the country.
I was a high school teacher once in the KZN Midlands in the immediate aftermath of the ANC/IFP wars in the mid-'90s. The kids were a traumatised, overtly aggressive lot. And by "kids", I'm also referring to 23-year-olds who had participated in the war. They would arrive at school bearing pistols, machetes, hunting knives and other deadly weapons.
In the 4.5 years I was teaching, I never slapped any kid. And I'm talking about boys who often stood up during lessons and told me to my face that I was emitting brain farts. Even if I had wanted to slap them like our heroine from San Souci, the near inevitability that I would have experienced the clanking sound of my teeth making contact before lying prostate in a pool of my own blood would have dissuaded me.
This leads me to my conclusion about why we slap children and other folks we deem slap-worthy. It's because we're yellow-bellied cowards who like to bully the weak and vulnerable. I think we're this way because we were smacked around and bullied as children.