Mmadifedile Mofokeng and Nyakallo Tefu|
Equal Education (EE), Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and Section27 have said that 1.5 million school learners have not received meals from the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
This is despite a mandated court order for the department of basic education (DBE) to do so.
“We received the last round of monitoring reports from the (DBE) minister and director-general and from the Education MECs of KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, after the court deadline of 19 March 2021.
“However, the reports from the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo were not submitted at all.
“Even worse is that the DBE and provincial education departments have not submitted the most recent round of monitoring reports, which were due on 14 April 2021,” said Equal Education.
Equal Education and Section27 said this “slacking” in the monitoring of whether learners are receiving meals, undermines the intentions of the court order from their 2020 case.
Reports say the issue of school learners not receiving meals started when the country was under lockdown level five.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced lockdown level five in March 2020. The announcement was made in an attempt to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Economic activity came to a stand still and schools were closed.
Learners who rely on school feeding schemes were left destitute and hungry, and thus, a deepened food crisis ensued.
Jeremy Seekings, professor and director of the Centre for Social Science Research at UCT, said national government comprehensively failed to feed poor people during the lockdown imposed on them.
“Parliament has done nothing to hold the government to account and it has been left to civil society – individuals and organisations, as donors and as volunteers – to fill the gap, with some assistance from provincial and local governments,” said Seekings.
Seekings added that, “government should be ashamed”.
South Africa was already experiencing a food crisis prior to the lockdown.
According to a study by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), the extent of food security in the country is dire. Close to one million households had “severely inadequate access to food” and another 2.5 million households had “inadequate access” – giving a total of close to 14 million people, prior to the lockdown.
The study says that Limpopo (93,6%) and Gauteng (84,0%) had the highest proportion of households that reported adequate food access while the North West (64,0%) and Northern Cape (66,5%) provinces had the lowest proportions of households that had adequate food access and therefore can be seen as the least food secure provinces.
“Households headed by black Africans and coloureds were less likely to have adequate access to food compared to households headed by Indians/Asians and whites,” reads the study.
In addition, households with larger household sizes were more likely to have inadequate or severe inadequate access to food compared to those with smaller household sizes. Almost two-thirds of the households that were vulnerable to hunger resided in urban areas, said StatsSA.
Equal Education and Section27 said after schools closed, learners would not receive their daily meals as per norm.
The organisations said this is the reason they took the DBE to court, demanding that they ensure learners receive meals regardless of where they are.
According to a joint press statement by the two organisations, court ruled against DBE.
The ruling means the department of education is required to give reports on the number of learners receiving meals in each province from then to date.
“DBE director-general Mathamzima Mweli said at least 1.5 million learners are still not receiving the meals.
“This shows that the NSNP has still not reached 100% of all learners that qualify for school meals – even though it has been over a year since the outbreak of Covid-19. Almost nine months have passed after the court ordered the DBE and provincial education departments to provide school meals regardless of whether learners are in classrooms or at home, said Equal Education and Section27.
Section27’s Julia Chaskalson added: “This is an unbelievable and a terrible neglect of responsibility, that allows children to go hungry. This is an ongoing violation of children’s rights, and barriers to learners’ getting the school meals they are entitled to must be fixed urgently. Many families have lost their income and slipped further below the food-poverty line. The impact that this has on children’s access to food can and should be addressed at school, through the NSNP.”
Equal Education’s Leanne Jansen-Thomas said DBE’s the director=general report showed that the number of learners getting meals in March increased from February, in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, and the Western Cape – but worryingly decreased in KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape.
She said in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, learners are able to collect food parcels for when they are not attending school due to rotating school time tables.
The organisations said the delays and failures to provide reports on the NSNP rollout has limited the ability of Equal Education, Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27 to monitor the delivery of meals, and ensure that all nine million learners are receiving the food they are entitled to through the NSNP.
The two organisations said they have since sent a written letter to the DBE and the provincial education departments, to express that it is unacceptable and unjustifiable that NSNP monitoring reports are not submitted on time.
Other calls have been made to DBE and education officials by the two organisations. These include the provision of scholar transport for all learners so that they can collect meals, the sending of a circular by the DBE to all provinces communicating that learners can collect meals from the school they live nearest to, and the provision of food parcels for learners who are not in school every day.