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.

Bakkie-Taxis: Inequality at its Worst

As South Africans, we are used to the sight of people being transported on the back of bakkies. Sometimes, these bakkies have a canopy and people are wedged in like tinned sardines. Other times there is no canopy and people sit, stand or lie depending on space availability.

The canopy-less option is usually preferred as the transporter gets more bodies onto the vehicle and the passengers get some fresh air. Safety is not a consideration. These bakkie-taxis as they are affectionately known transport children to and from school and workers to and from work. They sometimes have 2 or 3 people, they sometimes have 22 or 23 people. As far as one can make out the maximum number of people that can be transported on the back of a bakkie is mostly determined by how many people need to be transported. Apparently, thousands of people – many of them children – die each year because of over-crowded bakkies and taxis.  Parent24 editor Sophia Swanepoel argues that: “If all kids 3 and under should legally be strapped into car seats and all passengers should wear seat belts, then how can it still be legal to transport people, including children, on the back of a bakkie?” Well, the good news is that – as of 11 May 2017 – it isn’t legal. Well, kind of isn’t. An article on Wheels 24 states that: “In terms of regulation 250 of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), from Thursday (11 May) no person will be allowed to transport children in the goods compartment of a vehicle for reward.”  So, in short, it’s okay for children to carry on dying because of this frankly barbaric practise that perpetuates inequality, if the driver doesn’t get paid for it. Apparently, the Department of Transport has lauded this as a “giant step in the right direction for road safety.” There are other elements to regulation 250, for example if you are transporting people on the back of a bakkie (for no pay of course) and they are seated, there must be a minimum 35 cm enclosure above the sitting area. If they are standing, the enclosure must be at least 95cm’s above standing area. So, if you are sitting, you have just over one school ruler’s protection between you and doom. If you are standing, you have 3. Remember, you are not sitting or standing with any form of restraint. Now as I mentioned above, it is illegal to drive in a car without a seat belt and your baby must be strapped into a car seat. So, the conclusion must be drawn that we have two sets of road rules in our country; one for the poor and one for the rich. This is very considerate of us really because after all, the applause for these ground-breaking new regulations is that they will save lives. But it seems that these lives don’t matter quite as much as rich lives as if they did, transportation of people on the back of bakkies would require at the very least, some kind of seat belt for adults and some kind of car seat for children.  Better yet, it would be banned altogether. But of course, critics of this tell us that that can’t happen because bakkie-taxis are an essential part of the transport mix in our country. For example, if you are a parent living in an informal or rural area, you may need to make a decision as to whether you want your child safe or in school. If the latter, then you will likely need to put their lives at risk by transporting them on a bakkie-taxi. We must not accept this. And we must not accept that legislators must legislate to accommodate a total lack of services for our most vulnerable citizens.  Transporting people on the back of bakkies is a structural inequality of our country that is so much a part of our culture, we don’t even notice it anymore. I can accept that it will take time and money to correct such gross inequality and indignity but in the meantime, we can become far more creative about how we keep our people safe. If you are reading this and you are an engineer or an inventor of sorts, I would invite you to create a simple, cost-effective restraint for adults and children sitting or standing on the back of bakkies. This should be co-funded by government and vehicle manufactures. Coupled with strict enforcement of maximum numbers of passengers this would save thousands of lives as it would now be illegal for passengers to be unrestrained. And by the way, let’s work on this restraint being dignifying. We also cannot – even in the interests of safety – accept the inequality of human beings being packed onto the backs of bakkies like farm animals or people off to a death camp. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.