AN APPEAL to the High Court will follow after four teachers of a private school in Windhoek who subjected a pupil to corporal punishment were convicted on assault charges yesterday.
The headmaster of the private school Windhoek Gymnasium, Stephanus (‘Fanie') van Zyl, and teachers Ettienne Odendaal, Estelle Oberholzer and Frederick (‘Frikkie') Maartens were convicted of assault in a judgement delivered by Magistrate Helvi Shilemba in the Windhoek Magistrate's Court.
Magistrate Shilemba sentenced each of them to pay a fine of N$2 000 or serve a one-year prison term. The fines were paid shortly after their sentencing, with Windhoek Gymnasium's managing director, Colette Rieckert, saying in a media statement that the school paid the fines on behalf of the four “loved and respected” teachers.
While saying that the school respected the court's guilty verdict, “as we expected”, Rieckert also stated that the school has already instructed the teachers' legal team to continue with a High Court appeal against the magistrate's judgement.
The four teachers were charged with counts of assault in connection with five incidents in which corporal punishment was meted out to a 14-year-old pupil at the school in February and March 2010.
The pupil's parents did not approve of such methods of punishment being used on their child, and also informed Van Zyl that they did not want their son to receive beatings from teachers after the first incidents.
Having already been subjected to corporal punishment administered by Van Zyl, Odendaal and twice by Oberholzer, the boy was again beaten by Maartens on 15 March 2010 for the transgression of having forgotten his physical education clothes at home.
Maartens claimed he was not present at the meeting where Van Zyl informed the school's teachers that the boy's parents did not want their child to be beaten.
The teachers claimed they were acting in good faith when they used physical means to punish the boy, the magistrate recounted in her judgement. According to them, they carried out the corporal punishment in order to discipline the boy, with the aim of achieving good results.
The court was not satisfied with their explanation, and as a result rejected it, the magistrate said. She added that she found that the prosecution proved the guilt of the four accused beyond reasonable doubt.
The teachers' lead defence lawyer, senior counsel Raymond Heathcote, has argued that the prohibition of corporal punishment in the Namibian education system applies only to government schools, and not to private schools and teachers employed by private schools as well.
The Supreme Court ruled in a landmark judgement in April 1991 that the use of corporal punishment in government schools in Namibia would be in conflict with the Constitution's prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Judge Ismail Mahomed, who later served as Namibia's Chief Justice, stated in the court's judgement that corporal punishment is an invasion on the dignity of the pupil being punished, that it is a punishment which is open to abuse, that it is often retributive, and that it is alienating and degrading to the pupil receiving such punishment.
The then Chief Justice Hans Berker also stated in a separate judgement that “even if very moderately applied and subject to very strict controls, the fact remains that any type of corporal punishment results in some impairment of dignity and degrading treatment”.
Judge Mahomed however also appeared to leave room for a distinction between a situation where corporal punishment was as a matter of course used in government schools, and where parents gave teachers permission to use corporal punishment on their children.
In the statement issued by Rieckert yesterday the school continued to defend its use of corporal punishment.
“As a parent, I believe, when necessary, especially with repeated transgressions or disobedience, a good hiding is the best medicine for my child, which makes him think about his following actions - a guideline I learnt in the Bible, and from my parents,” Rieckert maintained.
Especially in a bigger group of pupils - such as the 1 500 enrolled at Windhoek Gymnasium - “a hiding might be necessary at times to help a learner on the right path and maintain order”, Rieckert said.