Why I Can’t Smack My Child Anymore

I don’t remember how old Lolly was when I first sent her howling to the bathroom to await her smack. She must have been 3 I guess – the same age I was when I hurled a soccer ball at my sister’s head whilst she was having a swimming race against my brother. In my juvenile mind, I was just helping my big brother to win his race! The ball hit its target perfectly, and I got a firm hand on my wet behind. I don’t recall ever being beaten again at home as a child. I remember the odd beating with a cane at school, but again, few and far between. But I was brought up in a day and age when beating children at home and at school was the norm. In fact, it was justified and even encouraged mostly on the basis of the Biblical Proverb: “Spare the rod spoil the child.” Now, Lolly is 6 and she has probably had an average of 1 smack for each year of life. But each one got harder for me to administer. We do not smack Lolly anymore and that is not because she doesn’t sometimes drive us completely demented. It is because every smack I gave Lolly was more and more terrifying to her. How could I hit a terrified and traumatised child? It went against everything I felt as her Dad. During those early years of grappling with “to smack or not to smack”, I did some research into “spare the rod spoil the child” and found that like so much of scripture, we might just have got it wrong. Scholars tell us that a rod here refers to the stick a shepherd would carry. He would hurl this through the air with great accuracy when he could see a wild animal or a snake threatening his sheep.  He would use it to count his flock as they re-entered their pen at night and he would use it to measure them. So, the rod referred to in this Proverb has everything to do with protection, guidance, safety and care. The backlash against the new legislation banning smacking children at home completely misses the point. It claims that parents should have a right to discipline their children as they see fit; it claims that “it never did me any harm!” (a subjective and largely unprovable statement); it claims that it is God’s will that we discipline by beating; it uses research that ‘proves’ that children benefit from a beating. But in a society so traumatized by violence, why are we even considering perpetrating more, of any kind? Why do we even entertain solving our problems through violent means? We have over 50 murders a day in our country now. It should be very clear from this horrifying figure that violence through a beating as a means of solving our problems, is out of control. Now you could argue that the way you beat your child will not create a violent adult. But how do we measure (not to mention regulate) what is an “acceptable” level of violence against a child? For me the more personal consideration has become, how can I justify inflicting physical and psychological pain on my child – or any child for that matter? It feels unnatural and pulls against every instinct I have as a father. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
God is Love; Gay or Straight

God is Love; Gay or Straight

As it turned out, the day was perfect; no wind, no rain – certainly no thunder or lightning. A gentle breeze kept the waiting guests cool and an inky, overcast sky provided a magnificent backdrop for the green Stellenbosch vineyards in the foreground and the familiar grey Cape mountains in the distance.

My faith – the Christian faith – has at its core the notion of God as love. As one studies the other religions of the world, one comes to appreciate that they all say roughly the same thing; God is love and our job is to allow Love into our lives to love us, so that we – in turn – may love others. The learning in all this is of course that God loves and God is love.  So, in short, Love loves; it knows how to do nothing else. This is why there is really no such thing as atheism unless you do not believe in love at all. For where there is Love, God is. The two are one.

The happy couple made their entrance on horseback preceded by several flower girls laying a pathway of petals before them. As is so often the case with weddings, the joy found its expression in tears amongst the 90 or so guests awaiting their arrival. But the tears quickly turned to laughter. I have never attended such a joyful wedding ceremony. The marriage officer was a Russian Jewish lady with a happy face and a naughty smile who tapped the traditions of most of the major faiths to create a rich and deeply spiritual occasion; the couple’s hands were wrapped in a strand of jewels to symbolise two becoming one; the congregation tied red cords around one another’s wrists to symbolise connectedness and our unity of witness and support for the couple; the mothers drank wine and then served some to their children’s new spouse – a symbol of welcome into one another’s families; the oldest Granny blessed the couple.  Rings were exchanged and the service culminated in that marvellous symbolic Jewish ritual of stamping on wine glasses.

You know Love when you feel it; it wraps you up and holds you tightly even if you are just watching it unfold. This is why so many people cry at weddings. They are being moved spiritually not just emotionally. No one present at this wedding would disagree that Love – or God if you prefer – was present on that day. She – or He if you like – was infused in every petal, every playful glance, every small gesture of kindness and care, every giggle and every tear.

A short sermon which – appropriately for a South African wedding equated marriage with rugby –  preceded the legalities of signing of marriage registers and certificates. Then – to Mendelsohn’s wedding march and in a hail of rose petals – the couple made their way up the aisle and disappeared for their photos.

“I will always be proud to introduce Grant as my son Theo’s husband,” said Theo’s mother as she concluded her speech later that evening at the reception. And again, the tears came for many as Love stood for itself. It was not being judged as gay or straight or for how it chose to express itself in the bedroom. It was just love. 

My purpose in writing this story as I have, is not to persuade you that homosexuality is right or wrong. That is a fool’s game. My purpose is simply to give Love a chance to speak for itself without our age-old preconceptions, judgements and stereotypes telling the world who or what Love is and what it should look like. Usually we are so busily expressing our fear of what is different or other to ourselves (this fear is usually expressed in moral judgement), that we miss Love. We miss God. Because the uncomfortable truth is that Love cannot exist outside of itself – and most believers would believe that God is Love. So, is there not also a revelation of pure Love that God just may not physically be capable of homophobia? What if God is not physically able not to love? What then? Where does that leave us? This realisation is surely what gave Archbishop Desmond Tutu the faith and courage to say: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,” and “I would not worship a homophobic God.”

Towards the end of the evening I looked across the dance floor and saw a sight I will never forget; Theo was dancing – proper ballroom style dancing – with Grant’s 75-year old father.

Two families had become one and Love had triumphed.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.



If you know the greater Johannesburg area, you will be familiar with a sulphurous smell that permeates the air at certain times of the year and reminds one of being on a long road trip with a windy family member.

Theories abound as to the cause of the smell; when we were kids we were told it “came from the mines”. But everyone has a theory; some rather randomly say it comes from Modderfontein, others blame factories, landfills and sewerage. I was in Johannesburg recently and caught a familiar whiff. Suddenly, I was in Parliament and it was the 8th August 2017 and I was listening to the results of the motion of no confidence in the President. As I listened the smell seemed to get stronger. Next thing I knew, it is three weeks later and the smell which is usually gone by morning, is still hanging heavy in the air. It just won’t go away and although it isn’t nauseating, it is just – there; constantly. I have tried to understand this smell that won’t go away. Of course, the easy answer is that it is the stench of avarice; greed upon greed upon greed; corruption breeding with itself to produce a deformed and grotesque fart bag. But that is too easy an explanation because we have lived with that smell for so long we hardly notice it anymore. (Note to self: When citizens become numbed to the crimes being committed by their leaders, the nation is on very rocky ground.  Wrongly, I have stopped reading anything that has #Guptaleaks in the title. It’s become like ambient noise that I just tune out. I must wake up, read everything and allow indignation to rise again. But this time it seems different. The stench I am smelling is, I think, a rather toxic blend of fear mixed with helplessness. Many South Africans from all walks of life had been unrealistically hopeful about the motion of no confidence. Some even believed that it would succeed in removing the President. When it did not, we seemed to collectively drop down onto the pavements of our country, our banners limp and impotent, and quietly give up. The dominant collective mindset seemed to say: “Well, we have him until 2019 now – lets ride this out and hope we don’t get someone even worse.” And then the fear kicked in as it began to dawn on us just how long two years is when you are being led by a Jacob Zuma. But surely if the smell is fear and helplessness, then the smell is coming from us. After all, these emotions don’t come from outside of ourselves; they come from within.  And if we have quietly resigned ourselves and hence our country to the fates, then are we not to blame if we get more of the same? But I sometimes find myself asking: “What more can we do? We have marched, prayed and railed. We have signed petitions and e-mailed MP’s. What is left for us to do?” The answers to some of these questions came to me this last week as I facilitated a 2-day workshop for the organisation Partners for Possibility. Their ground-breaking and internationally acclaimed program pairs a business leader with a school principal for 1 year to help the principal develop and refine his or her leadership skills. This workshop was all about how to build authentic community in and around a school and indeed, in one’s businesses and neighbourhoods. Half way through day 1 a couple of things occurred to me: the first was that these school principals – who have every reason to be negative – were anything but; they were positive, eager to learn and passionate about their schools and the kids. The business leaders were equally as positive; they sought solutions and were eager not to pass the buck onto government or anywhere else for that matter. The positivity in the room was infectious and as a result, the community of this group built quickly and discernibly. The realisation was two-fold: when we surround ourselves with positive people – and are open to having our minds changed – fear falls and hope rises.  Secondly, when people come together to discuss possibilities rather than problems, solutions emerge. This feeds the positivity, and the fear and hopelessness are further eroded. Another thing became very clear to me for the umpteenth time since I have been involved in community and NGO work; as we get involved by volunteering our time and skills, something shifts in us. We stop focusing our attention solely on what isn’t and begin to build on what is. This of course does not mean that we will suddenly be rid of our corrupt leaders. But what it does mean is that we will triumph over our own fear and helplessness; we will find ourselves in a position where we are able to celebrate what is great about our country. And when the moment comes when we need to once again rise, lift our banners and take to the streets, we will have the energy and the zeal to do just that. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.  His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.