School pupils have been encouraged to retaliate when hit by teachers in a controversial statement made by the Congress of SA Students last week.

“We call on all students to fight fire with fire; when teachers hit you, you must hit back,” said Cosas provincial chairperson Ntsako Mogobe.

He then defended his statement by saying that teachers were failing in their duty to teach.

The statement has since caused widespread condemnation, with the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) calling it “highly provocative and irresponsible”.

Members of the Wits student community are equally outraged.

“I think is unacceptable,” said Nompumelelo Ntuli, “violence should not equal violence. There should be other proper disciplinary measures put in place to reprimand teachers who hit their students. What is Cosas teaching our children if they encourage this?” she asked.

Dina Hendler, an industrial psychology masters student, said that while children must be empowered to defend themselves against abuse, this was the incorrect mechanism to do so, especially in a society where violence begets violence.

“It inspires an anarchic approach in which children are taught to distrust authority and legitimate societal structures put in place to address grievances. Basically it encourages widespread deviance, and a violent society,” Hendler said.

Another student, Ayanda Khumalo, called Mogobe’s statement “Malema-like behaviour”.

“It is completely irresponsible; one cannot make such statements knowing how much influence they have,” she said. “They should have learnt from the Julius Malema’s ‘shoot the boer’ statement that such violent speech can result in violent action.”
Just a day after Mogobe’s comment, a 17-year-old boy stabbed his teacher in the stomach at a school in Soweto and was arrested hours later in Dobsonville. Mogobe later denied there was any link between the incident and his statement.

“I never said you must violently assault teachers,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

“With police ‘shooting to kill’ and pupils ‘striking back’, Wits students are emphasising the need for their leaders to think before they speak.

“There is enough crime and violence around us; we don’t need our leaders adding fuel to the fire,” Khumalo said.