Feed all learners during lockdown! DBE taken to court over school nutrition programme
Johannesburg - Equal Education and two Limpopo schools have taken the Department of Basic Education to court in an attempt to force them to feed all pupils who qualify for the government’s National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
The department’s NSNP feeding scheme provides meals to over one million poor pupils in thousands of poor Quintile 1 to Quintile 3 schools around the country.
The programme was suspended when schools were abruptly closed in March as the country entered into a stringent level five lockdown.
Schools re-pened for Grade 7 and 12 pupils in June, with meals being provided to those at school.
Equal Education wants DBE and its nine provincial departments to provide food to the pupils who are not at school, and they are taking the department to court in an attempt to force the government to do so.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga confirmed they were aware of the court action they were facing, but would only say: “We are aware of the court action and we will respond in court, that is all I can say”.
In a statement, Equal Education said it had roped in Geoff Budlender SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and Thabang Pooe, as it sought to get a declaratory order that there was a duty for the government to ensure qualifying pupils received a daily meal whether their classes had resumed or not.
EE said the lack of NSNP provision to the pupils who were not currently at school “jeopardised the food security of these learners and exacerbated the severe hardship experienced within their households”.
“The closure of the NSNP impacts not only on the health and education of learners, but has knock-on effects on entire families – in a context of heightened unemployment and loss of income due to the nationwide lockdown, many families are struggling to put food on the table. “These families urgently require the NSNP to be reinstated in order to meet their children’s basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home,” said EE in a statement.
The NGO said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had backtracked at the start of June when she spoke of the departments “intentions” to resume the programme.
“They offered no time-frames or plans for such a roll out. The DBE claimed it did not have the capacity to roll out ‘new programmes’ despite the fact that the NSNP has been in operation since 1994, and has been widely lauded for its successes in combating learner hunger and improving learner outcomes.
“The DBE’s Standard Operating Procedures on Covid-19 make provision for the roll-out of NSNP to occur in a safe and hygienic manner. The DBE has provided no reasonable justification for its limitation of the NSNP to only Grades 7 and 12 learners,” said the organisation.
They said pupils did not deserve to be deprived of nutrition despite the disaster state.
“The DBE’s failure to direct provinces to roll-out the NSNP for all eligible learners disproportionally affects learners from poor and working class families,” they said.
Some of the testimonies from pupils as obtained by the organisation, said:
“I had to get a job doing gardening to earn some money to buy food. My sister and I do not have enough food at home. Without the meals from school, I could not concentrate on school work because I was hungry,” a matric pupil from Limpopo said.
In Gauteng, a matric pupil who is also an Equal Education learner member, said: “The government must also think about those learners at home. I feel bad because I am receiving meals at school while my younger sister is still struggling at home. It is not right.”IOL