It is nothing that western-funded and western culture-oriented human rights organisations would want to hear but when Bakgatla-ba-ga-Kgafela’s supreme traditional leader, Kgosi Kgafela II, deployed tribal age-regiments to rein lawlessness in Mochudi, student indiscipline at the Molefhi Senior Secondary School dropped to “below zero.”
That is the assessment of someone who taught at the school in 2012 when Kgafela’s mephato (tribal age-regiments) went to work in not just Mochudi where Molefhi is but across Kgatleng District. A teacher at Molefi says that a time that Kgafela’s age-regiments started curbing lawlessness in his tribal territory, there was a lot of lawlessness at the school. Soon thereafter, school management established a pipeline to the kgotla (customary court; plural dikgotla) through which lawless students were immediately delivered for caning on the bare back. A month after the regiments’ campaign started, indiscipline at the school was limited to infractions like late-coming and noise-making during study time.
The results notwithstanding, the work that the mephato was doing rubbed against the law because judicial corporal punishment has to be administered within a legally-defined processes. “Legally” refers to common law but the punishment was occurring within the context of customary law – which is constitutionally inferior to the latter legal tradition. Ultimately, the canings got Kgafela into water so hot that he fled to South Africa which his tribal territory extends. Interestingly, while bare-back whipping has officially been outlawed, it has never really stopped. It is not uncommon for men who misbehave at vigils to be whipped this way the following day when mourners return from the cemetery.
Kgafela’s absence in Kgatleng led to two developments: complete stoppage of the collaboration between Molefhi and the kgotla and resurgence of student indiscipline that continues almost unabated to this date. In the latest incident, a group of male students from Molefhi beat up a much younger male student from a local junior secondary school. The incident, which happened at the village’s main mall last week, was caught on tape and posted to social media. The beating would have been much more severe hadn’t a local resident who has been identified as Pampu Senwelo intervened. Apparently, Senwelo has saved many more people – adults included – who are sharing their own testimonies on Facebook.
Members of the public were highly appreciative of what Senwelo did. An unnamed Francistown company gave him P1000, which he topped up with his own money and bought the student school uniform, groceries and toiletries. A screenshot of a copy of the receipt has been posted to his Facebook page. The latest update from the page itself is that the parents of the culprits have agreed to their children being corporally punished: “The parents have given written consent for corporal punishment to be administered.”
Senwelo’s intervention is interesting in another context. With authorities being unable to rein in wayward students, a good many of them spoiled brats, members of society are stepping up to the plate. However, some are doing so in a dramatic fashion that portends escalation that could involve many more combatants.
Upon learning that his child was made to pay “tax” by Form 5 students upon his first week as a Form 4 student at a Central District senior secondary school, a father with an unusually long criminal record visited the school. During a meeting, he told school management that if the school couldn’t rein in the students bullying his child, he would deal with the culprits outside school premises.
“Okapi e ta a lela,” he told school management, meaning by that non-idle threat that he would attack the bully students with an Okapi jack knife.
In another incident, a viral video that went into circulation last year shows a young man in his 20s first slapping a uniformed male student hard across the face, then judo-sweeping him. The latter had apparently bullied his school-mate nephew at school. It is likely the bully reported the revenge attack to his own uncles and Botswana may be at the cusp of an era in which fights that start at school end up engulfing whole families.
While corporal punishment rules in schools are as stringent as to make this form of punishment near impossible, the Ministry of Educations and Skills Development has given a wink and a nod to schools that quietly send wayward students to dikgotla for Kgafela-style punishment. Sunday Standard made this discovery in 2020 and was told by the Batlokwa Deputy Kgosi, Spokes Gaborone that the Tlokweng kgotla has handled student indiscipline cases from Gaborone Senior Secondary School, Naledi Senior Secondary School, Nanogang Junior Secondary School and Bonnington Junior Secondary School – all in Gaborone.
While cagey with some precise details, 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.”
A source at the Tlokweng kgotla revealed that most of the culprits already look terrified when they arrive at the kgotla.
“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,” said the source.
The Ministry’s 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 and some teachers have essentially given up on disciplining students and just let them run amok.
Interestingly and much to the chagrin of some human rights organisations, no less a person than the Minister of Education and Skills Development, Fidelis Molao, has given corporal punishment the thumbs-up. As other political leaders, Molao knows the effectiveness of corporal punishment and would personally have been subjected to it during his primary and secondary school days.
The problem with this form of punishment is that it offends the sensibilities of westerners who, as is their wont, have manufactured research that favours their position. Conversely, most Batswana know from personal experience that corporal punishment works.