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School nutrition heads for collapse again

Pacina Retail still has stock in its warehouses while pupils go hungry in some schools. Picture: Supplied

Pacina Retail still has stock in its warehouses while pupils go hungry in some schools. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 7, 2023

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Durban — With the delay in reaching an amicable settlement between the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education and Pacina Retail over the termination of the retail’s contract, there are fears that the school feeding scheme might be heading for collapse again.

This fear was prompted by the department which issued a memorandum last week to schools asking them not to release pupils early because of food shortages.

In the memorandum, the department said it has come to its attention that there were some schools that had threatened to cook only when they receive food items for this month (June) even when there was surplus stock from last month (May).

The department further said while under normal circumstances schools must receive food items in advance for the coming month, the situation was compounded by the fact that some service providers were still in the process of securing funding from financial institutions.

The department also cited delays in signing service-level agreements with contractors that took over from Pacina Retail, since there was a need to consult senior counsel.

The department added that the service-level agreements would unlock funding with banking institutions and directed schools to accept food items, even if it was not for the full month. The department has been involved in a legal tug-of-war with Pacina Retail since April.

Another issue was the department’s alleged delay in paying service providers. A contractor in the eThekwini district said the delay had caused some of the contractors to fail to order full stock in advance for this month. The contractor also said they were confused about whether to sign the new service-level agreement while the department had not resolved its legal issue with Pacina.

“We are not sure what is going on and we heard that the department was reluctant to let us sign this new contract. What we are hearing is that they want us to sign one year or less than that,” said the contractor.

A source with banking knowledge, said having seen the condition in the new contract which stated that it was a stop-gap contract, there was no banking institution that would provide loans under that contract, since it meant it can be terminated at any time. Ithala was reported to have rejected loan applications in April since there was no contract.

Department’s spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi did not reveal at what stage the department’s talks with Pacina were, regarding the termination of the company’s contract.

Pacina’s spokesperson Thobani Zikalala said no agreement has been reached yet.

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