Judgment Reserved in Teachers’ Appeal

The Windhoek High Court yesterday reserved judgment in the appeal lodged by Windhoek Gymnasium school principal Stephanus van Zyl and schoolteachers Etienne Odendaal, George Frederick Maartens and Estelle Oberholzer.

The head teacher and his co-accused were convicted of the common assault of a learner whose beating prompted his father, Leon van Eck, to institute charges against them on which they were convicted. They however appealed the matter.

Judges of Appeal Elton Hoff and Naomi Shivute reserved judgment following extensive arguments by both the State and defense counsels.

The teachers were convicted in June 2013 and sentenced to pay a fine of N$2 000 each or face one year in jail by Magistrate Helvi Shilemba.

They paid the fine, but the school management immediately instructed their legal team to lodge an appeal.

Senior Counsel Raymond Heathcote who appeared on behalf of the teachers argued that the magistrate erred when she found that compelling evidence existed that the teachers assaulted the learner when they administered corporal punishment.

He reiterated his argument that Namibian laws do not strictly outlaw corporal punishment in schools, but leaves it to the discretion of parents andor teachers.

“When a parent drops his child off at school the burden of discipline falls to the teachers,” Heathcote argued.

While that does not per se give the teacher the right to usurp the role of the parent it does give the teacher some semblance of authority over the child, he said.

He reminded the court that while former Chief Justice Ismail Mohamed was still a Supreme Court judge in 1991 he ruled that corporal punishment was in conflict with the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. He however left room for a distinction between a situation where corporal punishment was a matter of course used in government schools, and where parents gave teachers permission to use corporal punishment on children.

State Aocate Constance Moyo argued that the magistrate did not err in her judgment and was right when she found the State proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.

She said that according to the evidence of the teachers themselves, they did in fact administer the beatings on the learner, “something that is outlawed by our supreme law, the Constitution”.

On an interesting note a former teacher of President Hage Geingob had testified in favour of corporal punishment.

In his testimony in defence of the teachers, retired teacher Martin Lazarus Shipanga, 84, had the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court in raptures when he revealed that even the revered president received corporal punishment.

Shipanga who testified in Afrikaans said, “Selfs Dr Hage het pakslae gekry op skool” meaning even Dr Hage received a beating at school.

“Dr Hage still calls me affectionately ‘Meester’ (Teacher) whenever we meet and I even got a mention in Dr Amadhila’s memoirs,” the old man said proudly as he explained teachers do not hate the students they punish, but do it to get the best out of them.

Source : New Era