According to the Human Rights Watch, corporal punishment violates internationally recognized human rights to freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, and freedom from physical violence. In many instances, it violates the prohibition on discrimination and impinges on children’s right to education. Corporal punishment is also contrary to respect for human dignity, a deep-seated guiding principle of international human rights law enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While speaking at a meeting with principals and school governing bodies King Goodwill Zwelithini, leader of the Zulu ethnic group, who is the patron of education in KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa expressed regret that corporal punishment was illegal‚ saying there’s nothing awfully wrong with the odd flogging. King Zwelithini was quoted by Times Live saying, “this thing of not disciplining our children is letting us down because children are not disciplined. What we disagree with is when there is a complaint that the child was not being disciplined‚ but being killed.”
King Zwelithini also reportedly said “the rod would make learners perform well.”
There is an existing law in South Africa banning corporal punishment under the Schools Act of 1996, and the king’s statements goes against the spirit of this law. There have been several videos circulating online, which capture the use of corporal punishment by teachers in South Africa.
The question of discipline being synonymous with the use of a cane has been challenged by Sonke Justice Network, a human rights organisation. According to Sonke, “In contrast to the king’s statement‚ proverbs in Zulu put into question the claim that hitting children is part of African culture. For example‚ the Zulu proverb which states: Induki ayiwakhi umuzi [Beatings don’t build a home].”
Sonke hosted a Five Days of Violence Prevention Conference in Johannesburg from 2 to the 6th of October. At the conference, Sonke’s director of strategic partnerships‚ Bafana Khumalo said prevention of gender based violence started with non-violent parenting as a prevention strategy.
According to Times Live the KwaZulu-Natal Education Member of the Executive Council (MEC) Mthandeni Dlungwane distanced himself from King Zwelithini’s statement saying, “It’s sad and annoying that in this day and age I still find myself having to speak about corporal punishment. I do not think there is any teacher who does not know that corporal punishment was banned a long time ago.”
King Zwelithini is yet to respond to Sonke’s call to retract his statement. The Zulu king has in the past made controversial statements. In 2015, the King made xenophobic statements that sparked violence in South Africa saying “foreigners must pack their bags and go home”. The king however said journalists had misquoted him.