After thrashing an offending child, a Motswana elder would soothe the weeper with these words: “ Thupa gae bolae, e bolaya peba (a little spanking can kill only a rat.”At the kgotla a recalcitrant young man is made to bend over and lashed on bare buttocks.
The elders would then say “Ya mosimane ke e nkgwe (a boy deserves a canning”.
They did not discriminate who should get larruping or not.
As long as one was of school-going age, any adult seeing a juvenile engaging in unbecoming behaviour was at liberty to cut a flexible branch of a moretlwa or mophane to put stripes on the imp.
For instance, one day when I was a toddler, I fiddled with a public standpipe in Serowe and the pompara (man hired to look after the standpipe) got hold of a whip and administered it to my body.
The pain was unbearable. The other time, a cousin had let our cattle mow someone’s crops after breaching the farm fence. When we got home, because he was the eldest among us, our uncle took out a long whip and laid it on her with such vigour the explosive whips rang in my ears for a long time.
At school, one day, the oldest boy in class decided to sing and whistle loudly while the teacher was away. He was caught in the act, and the teacher, using a metre long T-Square ruler hit the boy hard on the back.
A prominent technocrat who is known to this writer told of how the school headteacher would stand at the gate as they arrived late for school in freezing conditions.
With no shoes on, he said his small feet felt like half bricks as the teacher rapped her knuckles with a ruler. Another incident was when I as at senior school when together with other students, both males and females, we mooted an idea to have an alcohol “party” in some groves outside the school.
We contributed some money to buy liquor and soft drinks. The “party” was a roaring success and some of my comrades in crime, must still be remembering the occasion. But come Monday, some jealous boy snitched on us. He went straight to the headmaster’s office to report that some schoolchildren were drinking alcohol outside the school and that he suspected one of them sold his radio to make a contribution to buy liquor.
The girls who were with us were called to the headmaster’s office where they confessed about the occasion. One girl, who was my classmate, and whose name I cannot write here, came to class crying and whispering in my ear “we are in trouble.”
The headmaster summoned
The girl was lashed twice because the headmaster soon lined us up too, ordering us to bend over. Four lashes were administered to the buttocks that left one boy in tears and the rest of us grimacing with untold pain.
In the villages, young men who tried veering off the path of righteousness were quickly reined in with plenty of whipping. One man in my home village was arraigned before the kgotla for refusing to acknowledge tshenyo as a girl had identified him as the one who made her pregnant.
The kgotla by then was known to be the domain of males, especially grey-haired old men who were regarded as the sages of the village.
The men at the kgotla had a serious problem convincing the young man of his responsibility. When it became clear that the young man would not budge, one old man at the back had an idea. He suddenly stood up to ask for “the father of the child to stand up.”
The young man shot up like a projectile that was being launched into space. As he stood up bemused, the old man who had asked for the father to stand up, pointed at the young man.
“You see. Here he is. he made us spend the whole time arguing and then when I ask for the father of the child, he stands up without much ado. Give him four,” he said as the young man was led away to be lashed for “playing” with the elders. Corporal punishment was not only administered to errand boys and girls as in the olden days wives were also not spared the rod.
Married women were regarded as children of their husbands and the husbands were at liberty to make the woman bend over and give her a hiding of his liking.
It is total contrast to the society today, which frowns upon use of such punishment. Parents are encouraged to speak to their children instead of whipping them. At schools, the law requires teachers to use other means to punish errant pupils instead of a cane.