Court bid to reinstate school feeding programme

In some households it’s a choice between buying food or the data needed to study online

15 June 2020 - 07:02 By Tania Broughton
Civil society organisations have been feeding pupils since the suspension of the National Schools Nutrition Programme under the Covid-19 lockdown. File image
Civil society organisations have been feeding pupils since the suspension of the National Schools Nutrition Programme under the Covid-19 lockdown. File image
Image: Brenton Geach/GroundUp

Education activists and some schools are taking basic education minister Angie Motshekga to court after she “backtracked” on a promise to reinstate the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to feed nine million pupils from this month, irrespective of whether or not they are back at school.

The urgent application, brought in the North Gauteng High Court by Equal Education and supported by the Equal Education Law Centre and Section27, describes the struggles of pupils and their families in their own words.

One desperate mother said she has had to borrow money from a loan shark to feed her children during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Matric pupils speak about feeling guilty for having a meal at school while their siblings at home go hungry.

It is extremely stressful, said one pupil, because her younger brother cries for food and “there are family fights over bread”.

In some households it is a choice between buying food or the data needed for pupils to continue studying online.

The NSNP is designed to ensure that constitutional rights to education and nutrition are met. For many it is the only hot and nutritious meal they eat every day.

The scheme was abruptly stopped in March when schools closed as a result of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

The impact, Equal Education general secretary Noncedo Madubedube said in her affidavit filed with the court, has been devastating with child hunger across the country widely reported.

In late May, with the announcement of the phased reopening of schools, the director-general of basic education undertook that the NSNP would, from June 1, be rolled out to all pupils, including those not physically attending school.

Four days later, Madubedube says, Motshekga retracted this, saying it would only restart for grade seven and 12 pupils “because we really need to find our feet in this new environment”.

This meant that at one Limpopo school, for instance, only 74 out of 503 pupils would be fed. At another, only 32 out of 298 pupils would receive the daily meal.

“It appears the national government is not taking any responsibility for what is a national programme. It appears to have passed the buck to the provinces to do, or not to do, whatever they wish,” said Madubedube.

“The minister has given no legitimate reason for this failure. It’s not a new programme. All that is new is the need to ensure it is done in a manner that does not place providers and pupils at risk. All that is needed is planning and implementation.

“Funding is available to roll out the NSNP to all grades. It is a specific purpose grant. The total budget for this year is R7.6bn, and each province would have received its initial allocations by April 30 this year. With the lockdown, there has been R1.7bn in potentially unspent funds.”

Equal Education is asking a judge to declare that all qualifying pupils, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal, and that the minister and provincial MECs (barring the Western Cape, which has publicly committed to rolling out feeding) are in breach of their constitutional duties.

It said a structural interdict is required so there is court supervision going forward.

“We are asking that they be ordered within five days  to file under oath a plan [for an] implementation programme, and that they file further reports every 15 days until the order is discharged,” said Madubedube.

The minister and the MECs have until June 17 to file any opposing affidavits, after which the matter will be placed on the court roll.

-GroundUp


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