In what appears to be an unofficial, hush-hush arrangement that even the Ministry of Basic Education is said to have given a wink and a nod, the Tlokweng main kgotla has been quietly dispensing a special, traditional remedy to cure lawlessness in youth. That remedy is cane-whipping on the bare back which, while outlawed, is largely viewed as a more effective form of punishment.
Our information is that with an epidemic of student lawlessness having reached unprecedented levels, some Gaborone secondary schools have been quietly taking lawless students to the Tlokweng kgotla for disciplining in the form of bare-back corporal punishment.
Save to confirm that some Gaborone schools have indeed brought some lawless students to his kgotla, the Batlokwa Deputy Kgosi, Spokes Gaborone, was not willing to divulge too much detail. The schools he mentioned are Gaborone Senior Secondary School, Naledi Senior Secondary School, Nanogang Junior Secondary School and Bonnington Junior Secondary School. Gaborone said that the corporal punishment meted out at the kgotla is done in accordance with the law, is administered by the culprits’ male relatives (like uncles) and in the presence of police officers.
“It is not administered out in public,” he said, adding that culprits are not caned all the time. “In some cases we counsel the culprits, some of whom are as young as 17 years. Most of the culprits are in Form 4 and Form 5. What we are doing is a much better option than the formal process for bringing charges against a culprit.”
Gaborone laments a situation in which Batswana have abandoned their ways for an alien culture that is evidently failing them. Unlike the indigenous one, western places a high premium on professional counselling as a way of dealing with student lawlessness. Gaborone points out that this sort of counselling is accessible to the deep-pocketed only when lawlessness cuts across socio-economic classes. He also laments integration of the Botswana Local Police (whose officers were posted to each and every kgotla across the country) into the Botswana Police Service, arguing that the former was better suited to community policing while the latter is not.
The fact that the caning at the Tlokweng kgotla is “not administered in public” means that none of the videos of bare-back caning at some dikgotla posted to Facebook could be from Tlokweng. In one such video, a group of young men take turns squirming on the floor as an off-frame caner brings down a whippy cane on their bare backs. Their bloodcurdling screams suggests that they are only getting acquainted with a form of punishment they never knew existed. Some bellow in agony even before they are caned. Besides the caning itself, the videos are having an effect on their own. A source at the Tlokweng kgotla says that most of the culprits already look terrified when they arrive at the kgotla. Adds the source: “Most are spoiled brats who basically run their households and are used to doing whatever and wherever with impunity. It is only now that they are being introduced to real punishment and know that unlike in school or at home, they can’t get their way.”
According to the source, officials at the Ministry of Basic Education are aware of what is happening at the Tlokweng kgotla and have essentially given it a wink and a nod because they are themselves at their wits’ end about how to rein in student lawlessness. The Ministry’s own guidelines on corporal punishment are an elaborate bureaucratic charade with no real deterrence value. The cane should be of particular diameter and the caning should be administered by a head teacher on covered buttocks. This bureaucracy creates complications when punishment has to be meted out promptly.
Parents are not entirely blameless because some of what is supposed to showing western-type “love” for children merely ends spoiling them rotten – and can boomerang on the parents when those children begin to victimise those same parents. Gaborone says that some cases the kgotla has handled involved culprits insulting their own parents. What the latter reveals is that the incidence of lawlessness could actually be more pronounced at household than school level. The scene of a lawless student slapping around a male teacher at school will likely end up on social media while the same thing will not happen when that same student terrorises his own mother at home. Gaborone says that he has also addressed parents at some schools about the lawlessness of their children.
What the Tlokweng kgotla is doing has been done at the Mochudi main kgotla by Bakgatla’s Kgosi Kgafela II in 2012. During that time, lawless students, especially those at the Molefi Senior Secondary School, were taken to the Mochudi kgotla, and caned on the bare back. Resultantly, the rate of student lawlessness in Mochudi dropped to below zero. The caning provoked the ire of the government and criminal charges were brought against Kgafela who, after being derecognized, ended up fleeing to South Africa where he now lives. Interestingly, while bare-back whipping has officially been outlawed, it has never really stopped. It is not uncommon for men who misbehave at funeral service vigils to be flogged when mourners return from the cemetery.