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Reformatory CP - March 1972


Rand Daily Mail, Johannesburg, 24 March 1972

The Twilight Ones

Caned with their pants down -- while others watched

THE SECOND in a series by a Rand Daily Mail investigating team -- WILMAR UTTING and TONY STIRLING -- describing homes to which children in need of care are sent.

Major William Stevenson, the Salvationist superintendent of Firlands Boys' Home, in the dining room

PANTS and underpants are pulled down in front of the boys when Major William Stevenson, superintendent of the Salvation Army boys' home Firlands in Linden, Johannesburg, canes the boys on their bare buttocks on Tuesday nights.

"Cuts are given after dinner on Tuesdays", said Peter, 16, who left the home last year. "The boys line up between the dining tables. They stand sideways on to the rest," he said.

Mrs Joan Stevenson, the major's wife and matron of the home, said her husband writes in a notebook the names of those who are to get cuts.

"The major reads the names out. There is quite a lot of excitement among the boys waiting to know who is going to get it," she said.

"I have never seen anyone cut or bleeding," said Bill, 17, who was at the home last year.

"You get 'flaps' for smoking," said Peter. "Also for talking at the table. The senior got four for this and the juniors two.

"You did not always get cuts for those things. Sometimes you had to clean the tar, or do the weeding or clean the swimming pool. Usually the juniors got fewer cuts than the seniors."

When she spoke to me, Mrs Joan Stevenson, matron of the home, said the major had not had to give any canings for three weeks.

The major used to give cuts in the office. But some of the bigger boys laughed at him and said in front of the younger children: "That old top can't hurt you when he hits."

Then the major had started hitting them in front of the rest. "Now they know that it hurts when he hits," she said.

"He would not do anything to the home children that he would not do to our three children," she said. "And he never hits when he is angry."

Peter said he had seen boys get up to 10 cuts for smoking. The usual number was six. "The more cuts he gave for smoking the more they smoked," he said.

Miss Rosemary Martin, junior house mother at the home, said she never reported the major's method of punishment because "the relationship between the major and the children was good and the boys accepted it."

She knew the major's method of punishment sounded "dreadful". But it had to be seen in context. "Some of the boys coming here are beaten black and blue by their parents and they are very tough."


Mrs Stevenson said a number of boys kept in contact with the home after leaving but that there was no organised after-care. "We rely on the welfare for reports," she said.

"I remember once there was a boy who had no family when he left us. The major took him to a small room in town. He felt very sorry for him.

"He said to the boy: 'I know you got hidings at the home, but you know it was for your own good, don't you?'

"Then he knelt down and prayed with the boy," she said.

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