Accountability imperative to prevent another KZN debacle

File picture by Leon Lestrade

File picture by Leon Lestrade

Published May 14, 2023


From its onset, the centralisation of provision of school nutrition from various suppliers to a single one, was bound to fail and, in the process, affect our learners negatively, particularly those from poor backgrounds.

By Hendrick Makaneta

One of the greatest achievements of the government since 1994 was the establishment of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). Its primary aim is the provision of nutritious meals to hundreds of thousands of learners countrywide, particularly learners from poor schools.

It is worth noting that the provision of meals have not been without challenges. Over the years, we received reports of theft of food meant for the vulnerable learners and in some cases, vandalism of schools. The recent one is the 2021 July unrest when more than 32 schools were vandalised, leaving some of our learners hungry. We surpassed the challenges until the recent collapse of a centralised tender process in KwaZulu-Natal where only one supplier was given a tender to supply all the schools in the province.

The collapse of the centralised tender system for the school feeding programme in KwaZulu-Natal should not have come as a surprise. The intentions might have been good but the timing was wrong. After all, KwaZulu-Natal is a big province which should be managed with care and thoughtfulness, especially when it comes to the issue of school nutrition. From its onset, the centralisation of provision of school nutrition from various suppliers to a single one, was bound to fail and, in the process, affect our learners negatively, particularly those from poor backgrounds. It is not surprising that learners had to fend for themselves in time of great need.

It is clear that the department of education in KwaZulu-Natal did not do a proper job. Someone needs to account for this massive failure of the government to provide nutrition to learners. This is because the rights of learners have been violated. Among them is the right to study in a conducive environment. The national department should also not be exonerated entirely.

It is for this reason that Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education should summon Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, along with her deputy and the director-general, to answer questions from MPs, with a view to ensure that the situation is not repeated. The minister’s delegation should, of course, include the KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC who should be subjected to intense and rigorous process towards full accountability, all in the best interest of the African child.

South Africa faces a difficult problem of poverty and unemployment. The learners who were deprived of a meal come from communities that battle to put food on the table because of unemployment. It cannot be correct for the nation to simply move on and forget about what transpired in the beginning of the second term of learning and teaching. I would not be surprised if drop-out rates increased as a result of the fiasco. We should all know by now that there are learners who come to school regularly because they know that meals are served. In fact, it becomes a nightmare for such learners when schools are on recess as they always look forward to the reopening of schools because to them, an opportunity to go to school is equivalent to the opportunity to get a meal.

The government should ensure that there is no interruption in the provision of nutrition, by doing away with individual providers, especially for a province as a whole. We need to continue with multiple service providers who have the capacity to handle their scope of work.

The fact that the Special Investigating Unit has taken steps to investigate the scandal, speaks volumes about the importance of prioritising learners in our schools to ensure that quality learning and teaching can take place. We hope the SIU will bring relief to the victims of the KwaZulu-Natal nutrition scandal.

No other child should go through the misery that affected the children of KwaZulu-Natal. Although provision of nutritious meals should continue to be decentralised like they were, the monitoring and evaluation should be centralised in the office of the minister.without monitoring and evaluation, we may see the repeat of what transpired in KZN. We can draw lessons from provision of infrastructure in a wide range of provinces.

The continued and uninterrupted provision of all the necessary tools for learning will go a long way towards preparing our learners as they prosecute the difficult struggle to create a future for themselves. They are the future and we dare not fail them.

We owe those who intervened in KZN a debt of gratitude for putting the learners first. By terminating the tender with the appointed service provider, the government has taken the first step towards restoring order. We can only trust that in time, the SIU will provide a detailed report about the incident and suggest the next cause of action. It is in the interest of the country for learners to have meals at school.

Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist completing an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria