Maverick Citizen

Maverick Citizen: Hunger

Court orders Basic Education Department to ensure millions of hungry pupils are fed, giving them 30 days to get it done

A court has ordered the government to rethink its plans to ensure all pupils receive school meals during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives/Wikipedia)

Half the pupils surveyed are not getting school meals on the days they are at home due to a lack of scholar transport, no clear communication and limited access to food parcels.

The Department of Basic Education has been ordered to urgently revise its plans to resume the critical National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), which feeds nine million pupils across the country and was stopped when schools closed in March 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 national lockdown. The court has given the department one month to do this.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Equal Education, the Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27 said: “We welcome this court order and celebrate this victory for over nine million learners and the millions of households whose food security has been compromised during the Covid-19 lockdown and the current unrest within South Africa!”

The court order handed down on 20 July “is a victory for learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education, equality and dignity. We are hopeful that the new plans that the [Basic Education Department] and provincial education departments have been ordered to develop to improve the roll-out of the NSNP, can guarantee that it reaches every single learner who qualifies for it.” 

The order which came as a result of a settlement agreement proposed by the department’s legal representatives contained the following terms:

  1. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and provincial education departments will formulate and implement revised roll-out plans within one month of signing the settlement agreement, to ensure that all qualifying pupils receive a daily meal under the NSNP, whether at school or at home;
  2. These plans must take into consideration:
  • The challenges experienced with the roll-out of the NSNP during Covid-19; 
  • The need for realistic and responsive plans that ensure every qualifying pupil receives a meal – either through hot meals or food parcels – under the NSNP; 
  • The need to feed every qualifying pupil during the school calendar year, regardless of whether schools are closed due to Covid-19 or whether pupils are at home because of a rotational timetable;
  • The need for communication plans that ensure that all pupils and schooling stakeholders are aware that meals are being provided, the manner in which meals will be provided, and the availability of scholar transport where applicable; and
  • The need for directions or guidance to provincial education departments to ensure that they carry out their duties without delay.
  • These plans must include: 
    • The steps Motshekga and provincial education departments will take to comply with their obligations; and 
    • When Motshekga and provincial education departments will take each step planned.
  • These revised plans must be filed with us and with the court within one month. After this, monthly reports must be filed with us and the court describing the implementation of the revised plans; explaining if the steps taken have succeeded, what further steps will be taken to ensure that the plans succeed, and when the education departments will take each of these steps.

“I am happy about this court order because it helps those learners who depend on school meals a lot. It means that their hunger will be decreased because they are able to eat at school, and they will no longer worry when they come to school because the NSNP provides them with food. I think it’s cool that they helped many poor learners who do not have anything at home,” said Gracious, a learner member of Equal Education in Limpopo.

Speaking to Maverick Citizen, Equal Education researcher Stacey Jacobs said: “The urgent need for alternative arrangements that facilitate greater access to the NSNP was made clear in the findings of an EE survey of over 300 learners in March 2021. The survey revealed that 50% of the learners surveyed were not accessing school meals on days that they were at home due to a lack of scholar transport, no clear communication and limited access to food parcels.

One parent had reported that “their child resorted to directing some of their study time to looking for part-time work to be able to contribute to family income. It is our hope that the new court order will go far to alleviate these issues.

On 29 June the NGOs announced that they would be heading to court on behalf of two Limpopo school governing bodies to force the department to feed millions of hungry pupils after breaching a court order by Judge S Poterill handed down in July 2020 that the department resume the NSNP and report to the court every three months on its progress.

The NGOs said they would be monitoring the department’s revised plans to make sure the NSNP is rolled out successfully to the millions of qualifying pupils. DM/MC

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