Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi.
Johannesburg - The Gauteng Education Department has said it is concerned about the number of children going hungry during school holidays.

This comes after a recent study conducted in the UK regarding the increase in malnutrition among students on feeding schemes during vacation periods. According to the report, as many as four in five staff (80 percent) reported a rise in “school holiday hunger” over the past two years, with parents of children who qualify for free school meals struggling from time to time to find the money to fund extra meals during school holidays.

In an Annual Report that was conducted during the period of 2015/2016 for the health portfolio committee by former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, about 3 040 cases of severe acute malnutrition were identified at schools. Out of those cases, 1 512 children were admitted at different medical facilities, with 113 deaths attributed to severe acute malnutrition.

Thelma Mbele, a teacher from Vusisizwe Primary School in Zola, Soweto, told The Star: “I notice a lot of changes in pupils when coming from school holidays, a lot of them are very weak and even the state of their physical performance is slim.”

She added that the NGO the school works with – African Children Feeding Scheme (ACFS) – helps a lot of children because the food that the government supplies is often not enough for the pupils.

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi said the Gauteng government has not conducted the same research as the UK study, but parents have approached them to continue the feeding programme during school holidays. However, due to budget constraints, they are being referred to the Department of Social Development.

“There might be a need to conduct a similar study in our country because the reality of poverty cannot be underestimated and the biggest victims are the schoolchildren.

“We feed around 1.3 million a day/week and if we have that number you can imagine that during school holidays some of them might be affected,” said Lesufi.

He added that community members and organisations have asked them to consider providing additional meals to the children.

“To me poverty is poverty. Poverty does not know whether today is a school holiday or it is a normal day. I really believe that we need to encourage inter-governmental support, especially between the Department of Education, Health and Social Development, just to find a way of covering the poor as well during school holidays. It is something that I will truly support,” said Lesufi.

The Star