The pupils will be fed, department promises

Millions of children from impoverished KZN families were left with empty stomachs when a businessman failed to supply food to schools. Picture: Supplied

Millions of children from impoverished KZN families were left with empty stomachs when a businessman failed to supply food to schools. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 30, 2023


Durban - The KZN Department of Education has promised that when pupils return to school on Tuesday they will be fed.

Schools and service providers have been collaborating over the weekend, following the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) tender blunder which left millions of impoverished learners from over five thousand schools hungry.

The department said it would be reverting to its old system where service providers that were awarded particular clusters would deal directly with schools, without the middle person. The R2.1 billion school nutrition contract was awarded to KZN businessman Manzini Zungu and his company Pacina Retail (Pty) Ltd. However, after failure to deliver, Zungu apparently wrote to the departmental head, Nkosinathi Ngcobo on Wednesday, opting out.

Following Zungu’s withdrawal, the department announced it would be using service providers from any cash and carry, retailer, warehouse and distribution centres to their relevant cluster of schools upon receipt of a purchase order note from the school.

In a circular, Ngcobo said the applicable rates for primary, combined and special schools were R3.28 per pupil per day plus R0.35 to cater for the inclusion of breakfast. The rate for secondary schools is R3.79 and does not include breakfast.

“The delivery schedules which detail quantities to be delivered for each school for the months of May and June will be emailed to districts for onward distribution to schools. These delivery schedules will be used by schools to prepare their purchase order notes for both perishables and non-perishables for the month of May onwards, for which the purchase order note is required.

“It is advised that service providers make arrangements with principals of schools in respect of accessing schools over the weekend for the delivery of food items on time. Service providers who require financial assistance are advised to approach their local Ithala branches for assistance,” he said.

However, Zungu’s company yesterday issued a statement saying the contract it had with the department was still binding. “Pacina would like to set the record straight regarding recent unfounded rumours and misleading allegations of the collapse of the programme.

“Since April 14, 2023, Pacina has continued to deliver food to the agreed collection points of all 12 districts of the province, where the 1 765 SMMEs (independently contracted to The Department of Basic Education, KwaZulu-Natal) were then to collect and deliver to 5 446 schools in the province.

“It is not true that we failed to deliver. In fact, over 2 400 tons of non-perishable/dry foods and over 3 000 tons of perishable foods were delivered to those collection points.

“As the contract remains in place, we are committed to fulfilling our obligation to deliver food to all the collection points and want to emphasise at this point, that we did not terminate the contract between the parties. “To date, the contract remains binding and in force,” Pacina said, adding that it has not received payment for the work it has done so far.

Lindani Matiwane, KZN Service Providers chairperson, said they accepted the department’s decision of going back to the original plan. “We are happy that we will be able to provide nutritious food to our children and when they open on Tuesday they will have meals prepared and waiting for them,” Matiwane said. Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube said there would be a full scale investigation into the roll-out of the food programme.

“We are asking for communities to work with us, to give us information. It is clear from the reports that we have received from the department before that there is no ultimate truth. We want to rid our government of any wrongdoings, but also those people who are getting paid, not having done the work.

It is criminal that our children will go to school, with the government having paid for everything, and there is no proper nutrition,” said Dube-Ncube. Zwakele Mncwango, ActionSA provincial chairperson, said they welcomed Pacina Retail’s decision to pull out from the NSNP.

“We acknowledge this as the first step towards uncovering the true dynamics of the tender award, what led to the main supplier’s failure to deliver food to schools across the province, and what steps, if any, were taken by the Department of Education after learning of this calamity.

“Unfortunately, while we welcome the company’s decision to pull out from the tender, we cannot allow the matter to fizzle out after causing great dysfunction among thousands of schools and millions of lives,” said Mncwango.

Velenkosini Hlabisa, president of the IFP, said the chaos had disregarded the dignity of the black child and the dignity and image of the emerging black businessperson had been brutalised by the government of the ANC.

“The IFP caucus calls upon the relevant law enforcement agencies of the country to investigate the breach of our country’s laws and to ensure that all those who have broken the law in the administration, the political leadership of government and the tenderers who have flouted the laws with them, are made to face the full might of the law.

“The IFP caucus in the KZN legislature will not rest until all the people who have subjected our province to this shameful and unbecoming mess have been made to pay for their actions.” Bheki Mtolo, ANC provincial secretary said urgent remedial action needed to be taken.

He said all contracts associated with the NSNP should pass the test of value for money through a fair and transparent competitive process and that there must be regular communication of clear progress regarding the roll-out of NSNP. “The ANC is directing its government to make sure that by Tuesday, May 2, every school in the province has enough food for the whole month,” he said.