The plight of children going hungry during the national Covid-19 lockdown worried Ivone Azwindini Davhula so much, she would lie awake at night wondering what she could do to help the starving little ones.
Her village of Tshitavha in the Vhembe district of Limpopo is one of many rural areas across the country which suffers from high unemployment, poverty as well as a high rate of single parent and child-headed homes.
“Children were really struggling because the meal they had at school was for many of them, the only proper food they would get in a day,” Davhula said.
Davhula, a chairperson of the Vhulaudzi Secondary School Governing Body (SGB), which was one of three applicants in a court action brought against the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga and provincial education MECs.
The applicants, who included Equal Education and the SGB of Mashao High School, also in Limpopo, sought an urgent declaratory order against Motshekga and the MECs of education in eight provinces to provide meals to more than nine million learners during the lockdown as part of the National School Nutrition Programme [NSNP].
Recently, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the minister and MECs have a constitutional and statutory duty to provide basic nutrition to learners. According to the department of basic education, the NSNP aims to enhance the learning capacity of learners through the provision of a healthy meal at schools.
The department said: “Where it is implemented, the programme has shown to improve punctuality, regular school attendance, concentration and the general wellbeing of participating learners.”
However, the department of basic education suspended the NSNP – after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a nationwide lockdown in March 2020 – drawing widespread criticism from rights organisations and lobby groups. The Western Cape provincial government, however, continued with the programme.
Acting Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng division, Judge Sulet Potterill declared that all qualifying learners, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes at their respective schools, are entitled to receive a daily meal as provided for under the NSNP.
She also declared that the minister ensures that the NSNP provides a daily meal to all qualifying learners, to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and to enhance their learning capacity, whether they are attending school or studying away from school as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are very happy with the decision. It means children will not go hungry any more,” said Davhula in reference to the court judgment.
Vhulaudzi Secondary School is in the rural village of Tshitavha, under the Makhado local municipality which has over 6,100 indigent households.
Davhula said during the lockdown period that started in late March 2020, most households were relying on food parcels which in most cases were only delivered intermittently and many relied on income from government social grants.
“There are many children who are orphans. They had nothing because they rely on the food they receive in school,” said Davhula. “They now had to rely on neighbours who were struggling themselves.”
The diet in the area includes pap, milk, samp, tinned fish and vegetables. Vhulaudzi has over 500 children on the NSNP. Davhula said since the judgment, only those who have been attending classes are catered for as they await supplies to be delivered to the school to accommodate the rest of the children from Grades 8 to 12.
She said the school has a borehole that supplies clean water for consumption and for sanitation. The department has supplied masks to be worn by learners and the school has used its own funds to purchase sanitisers to ensure compliance with Covid-19 regulations. The learners will be served one meal at 10.30am from Monday to Friday.
The minister and MECs have also been ordered by the court, within 10 days, to file under oath and provide to the applicants a plan, and programme which will be implemented without delay “so as to ensure that the MECs carry out without delay their duties…”.
Motshekga also has to detail what steps she has taken to ensure that the MECs continue to provide food to all qualifying learners during the State of National Disaster without delay, what further steps she will take in that regard and when she will take each such step.
Mashao High School SGB spokesperson Tabane Lemmy Molate said the failure to provide learners with meals during the Covid-19 lockdown had plunged his community of Ga-Ntata into disaster.
The village, located in the Greater Letaba local municipality in Limpopo, has a dependency ratio of 88% with an estimated 470 households.
“It was like the community will have street kids. The impact was that now the families of those learners are exposed to poverty,” Molate said.
He said the court victory has brought down stress levels among the community, which was uncertain about what to do as they watched their children starve.
“We will now wait for the department to come with the strategy,” he said. DM/MC – Mukurukuru Media