Court orders education department to resume feeding 9 million pupils without delay
The North Gauteng High Court on Friday ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to resume the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to all eligible pupils with immediate effect regardless of whether they have returned to school.
The court handed down both a declaratory and supervisory order, and the ruling comes as a major victory for Equal Education, Section27 and two Limpopo school governing bodies who took the government to court.
The NSNP, which caters for about 9 million children across the country, was suspended when schools shut down at the end of March because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Since then the DBE has failed to honour the promises it made to reinstate the programme and to ensure learners would not go hungry.
"We celebrate this victory for the over 9 million learners in South Africa who depend on the NSNP for a nutritious meal every day, and for the many learners and caregivers who put their testimonies before the court," Equal Education said in a statement.
With reports of children eating wild plants to survive in Peddie, Eastern Cape, among others, as the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown take their toll, concerns have grown that the consequent closure of schools exacerbated hunger among children in the country who received their only daily meals at school.
"In an important piece of jurisprudence, the court granted a declaratory order, reiterating the constitutional and statutory duty of the DBE and the provincial education departments to fulfil learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education by delivering the NSNP," Equal Education said.
"The judgment also, in a supervisory interdict, orders Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the Education MECs of eight provinces to file detailed plans and programmes for the resumption of the NSNP to all eligible learners within 10 days.
"Thereafter, the Minister and the MECs will be required to file updates with the court every 15 days to prove that the plans to provide meals to learners are actually being implemented."
In her judgment, Judge Sulet Poterrill reflected on the centrality of basic nutrition and the violation of learners’ rights in this regard.
“Children are categorically vulnerable, poor hungry children are exceptionally vulnerable. The degree of the violation of the constitutional rights are thus egregious," she said.
"We welcome the judgment for its recognition that the constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education are inextricably linked, and celebrate this as a victory not only for over nine million learners, but for the millions of households whose food security has been gravely compromised due to the Covid-19 necessitated lockdown," Equald Education said.
"For learners to receive meals at school will ease the strain on caregivers – many of whom have lost their income and are struggling to put food on the table.
"We look forward to examining the plans put forward by the DBE and provincial education departments for the full resumption of the NSNP, as well as the progress reports, to ensure that the rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality are upheld."
Equal Education and the two Limpopo school governing bodies were represented by the Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, and counsel Geoff Budlender SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and Thabang Pooe.