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Court orders government to ensure all learners get school meals during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Gauteng High Court Division of South Africa has ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments to develop new plans to feed the over nine million learners that depend on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

The order states the plans should be put in place even when schools are closed because of Covid-19 or learners are at home because of rotating timetables. 

This court order was confirmed last week.

Equal Education Communications Officer said this is a victory for learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education, equality and dignity.

“We are hopeful that the new plans that the DBE and provincial education departments have been ordered to develop to improve the rollout of the NSNP, can guarantee that it reaches every single learner who qualifies for it,” said Cyster.

This new court order comes after Equal Education (EE) and two Limpopo school governing bodies, represented by SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), went back to court on 29 June.

READ: Over 2 Million Learners Still Not Receiving Food From Basic Education Department, Says Equal Education

The NGOs said the court order was set against the DBE and the MECs of eight provincial education departments for failing to ensure that the NSNP reaches every qualifying learner, despite a judgment handed down last year that demanded that they fulfil this responsibility.

EELC Media and Communications Coordinator Tad Khosa said the they went back to the court to get the education departments to submit progress reports on the rollout of the NSNP.

“This is what like the 2020 court order told them to do but they have failed to do since March 2021.

“We also asked the court  to tell education officials to develop and implement practical and realistic plans for the NSNP which respond to the new realities of schooling during Covid-19, and for monthly reports to be submitted  on the implementation of these plans,” said Khosa. 

He added that the situation had became more and more urgent, with qualifying learners not being able to get meals  because of barriers such as not having scholar transport and poor communication from education officials with school communities.

“The mental, physical and financial impact that food insecurity has on learners and their families is tragic, and unacceptable,” he said. 

READ: 1.5 million learners have not yet received their food from the school mandated programmes

Khosa said in response to their return to court, the legal representatives of the national and provincial education departments proposed that the organisations negotiate a legal settlement. 

“On 20 July, the settlement agreement was made an order of court. This agreement contains clear commitments for the existing systems for the delivery of the NSNP to be revised, and for reasonable timeframes for implementation,” he said.

According to the court order, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the provincial education departments will formulate and implement revised rollout plans within one month of signing the settlement agreement. They are to ensure that all qualifying learners receive a daily meal under the NSNP, whether at school or at home.

Julia Chaskalson, SECTION27 Communications Officer said the need to feed every qualifying learner during the school calendar year, regardless of whether schools are closed due to Covid-19 or whether learners are at home because of a rotational timetable is critical.

Chaskalson said the DBE and the provincial education departments need to communication plans that ensure learners and schooling stakeholders are aware that meals are being provided.

These plans should also include the manner in which meals will be provided and the availability of scholar transport where applicable.

“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, as well as what further steps will be taken to ensure that the plans succeed,” said Chaskalson.

The organisations said they welcome the 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. 

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