Education activists and some schools are taking Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to court after she “back-tracked” on a promise to reinstate the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to feed nine million pupils from this month, irrespective of whether or not they are back at school.
The urgent application brought in the Pretoria High Court by Equal Education and supported by Equal Education Law Centre and Section27, described the struggles of pupils and their families.
One desperate mother said she has had to borrow money from a loan shark to feed her children during the lockdown.
Matriculants speak of feeling guilty for having a school meal while their siblings at home go hungry. It’s so stressful, said one pupil, because her young brother cried for food and “there are family fights over bread”.
In some households, it was a choice between buying food or the data they need to continue studying online.
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The NSNP was designed to ensure that constitutional rights to education and nutrition were met. For many it was the only hot, nutritious meal they got every day.
But the scheme was abruptly stopped in March when schools closed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The impact, Equal Education general secretary Noncedo Madubedube said in her affidavit filed with the court, has been devastating with child hunger across the country widely reported.
And then late last month, with the announcement of the phased reopening of schools, the director-general of basic education undertook that the NSNP would, from the beginning of this month be rolled out to all pupils, including those not going to school.
Four days later, Madubedube said, Motshekga retracted this, saying it would only restart for Grades 7 and 12 pupils “because we really need to find our feet in this new environment”.
This meant that at one Limpopo school for instance, only 74 out of 503 pupils would be fed; at another, only 32 out of 298 would receive the daily meal.
“It appears the national government is not taking any responsibility for what is a national programme. It appears to have passed the buck to the provinces to do, or not to, whatever they wish,” said Madubedube.
“The minister has given no legitimate reason for this failure. It’s not a new programme. All that is new is the need to ensure that it is done in a manner that does not place providers and pupils at risk. All that is needed is planning and implementation.
“Funding is available to roll out the NSNP to all grades. It is a specific purpose grant. The total budget for this year is R7.6 billion and each province would have received its initial allocations by 30 April this year. With the lockdown, there has been R1.7 billion of potentially unspent funds.”
Equal Education was asking the court to declare that all qualifying pupils, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal and that the minister and the provincial MECs (barring the Western Cape, which has publicly committed to rolling out feeding) were in breach of their constitutional duties.
It said a structural interdict was required so that there was court supervision going forward.
“We are asking that they be ordered, within five days, to file under oath a plan [for an] implementation programme and that they file further reports every 15 days until the order is discharged,” said Madubedube.
The minister and the MECs have until Wednesday to file any opposing affidavits after which the matter will be placed on the court roll.
– Republished from Groundup