Child Hunger

‘I am forced to watch other learners eat’

By Maverick Citizen 12 June 2020

A South African child stands in line as he waits for food in Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa, 25 May 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA)

Simon (not real name) is an 18 year old Grade 12 learner at a school in Limpopo. In his affidavit he explains “how my life has been affected by not receiving any meals through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) at my school”.

SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have approached the court on behalf of a number of learners, parents, teachers and school governing bodies in an attempt to get the government to feed millions of children who have gone hungry since the schools closed during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It was hoped that, once schools started re-opening, the school feeding schemes, which are planned and budgeted for, would resume in full. However, the Minister and the Department of Basic Education have opted, for now, to only feed Grade 7 and 12 children.

SECTION27 and EELC have filed a number of affidavits on behalf of their clients – Equal Education and the School Governing Bodies of two schools.

Maverick Citizen has been given access to affidavits from the SECTION27 and EELC clients and they make for harrowing reading. They tell a story of extreme hunger and poverty, but also of a government that has to be dragged to court to compel them to feed children who desperately need one meal a day, who have no source of food other than the school feeding scheme.

Learners’ affidavits, particularly, make for stomach-churning reading, but it is important to read their stories to try to understand the lived realities of people in small, off-the-map, far-flung villages in South Africa. People, even worse children, going hungry in South Africa is unforgivable. It is also important to pay tribute to the bravery of teachers, parents, school governing bodies and learners who are speaking out despite being fearful of intimidation and losing their jobs.

We publish extracts from 15 affidavits and even though these documents will become public in the courts, SECTION27 and EELC requested that we do not identify their clients by name for fear of intimidation.

Affidavit 1

‘Most of the time I do not have food to bring and I am forced to watch other learners eat while I have nothing to eat.’

Simon (not real name) is an 18 year old Grade 12 learner at a school in Limpopo. In his affidavit he explains “how my life has been affected by not receiving any meals through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) at my school”.

“I live with my little sister, aged 14. She also attends school with me. My mother resides in Tembisa, for the purposes of finding employment. She is currently unemployed. My father is not assisting nor is he involved in our lives.

“My mother sends us money for food. She sends R500 per month, every other month. The money is not enough to cover our monthly needs. It is only sufficient for us to buy maize meal to make pap, and toiletries. It doesn’t cover anything to eat the pap with. When we are not at school, we eat twice a day. We eat pap for breakfast and eat pap again at night. We have nothing to eat the pap with.

“Before school closures commenced on 18 March 2020, my school was offering daily meals by way of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to all the learners enrolled at my school, including my sister and I.  We get a cooked meal and a piece of fruit every day. They feed us according to a weekly menu. We eat rice, pap, or samp served with tinned fish and cabbage.

“I also attend afternoon studies as a matriculant. We have a break in the course of the afternoon but that school does not provide a meal during that break and learners must bring their own food. Most of the time I do not have food to bring and I am forced to watch other learners eat while I have nothing to eat.

 “The food we receive at school gives me and my sister a full meal each day so we do not complain when we just have pap in the evening. This makes it almost possible to stretch the little money we have.  

“Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we stopped receiving meals when (our school) was closed. We also didn’t have food at the house. I had to get a job doing gardening to earn some money to buy food. Working during the day meant that I struggled to do any school work as, when I got home, I was tired from the manual labour and was hungry.

“During the lockdown we have been eating twice a day to save food. When we have some money, we buy eggs in order to have something with the pap. Our neighbours don’t assist us and the only additional help we get is from a friend of mine who is at university and assists me sometimes when he has extra money.

“We have not received any assistance in the form of food parcels or donations in this time. My mother receives a child support grant for my sister and I am not aware of any increase to the grant. We have not received an increase to the money that my mother sends through.

“As far as I am aware, my school has not opened during the lockdown to provide learners with food. 

“My sister and I do not have enough food at home.  When we are at school and receiving meals, we have energy and are able to concentrate on our school work. Without the meals from school, I could not concentrate on school work because I was hungry. I tried to study at home but I could not focus. Because we do not have much money, I was also unable to purchase data that would allow me to access the schoolwork that my school makes available online.

“As of 8 June 2020 I returned to school along with the other Grade 12 learners. My sister is not back at school yet. I have to make sure I cook for my little sister and leave some food for her while I am at school. If the NSNP programme was there for all, she would also get a full meal.

“I want my school to provide food to all the learners regardless of whether they are back at school. There are many learners like me. As much as my sister and I are hungry, it is also hard to see others that have had no food at all. The national lockdown has negatively affected everyone.” DM/MC

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