Government backtracks on feeding scheme agreement

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GK CRONJE

16 June 2020

“The closure of the NSNP impacts not only on the health and education of learners, but has knock-on effects on entire families – in a context of heightened unemployment and loss of income due to the nationwide lockdown, many families are struggling to put food on the table. These families urgently require the NSNP to be reinstated in order to meet their children's basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home,” the bodies stated.

Suzuki Ermelo (WEB) 22 September 2020.jp

Two Equal Education (EE) and the school governing bodies (SGBs) launched an urgent court application against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments to compel the departments to provide meals for pupils. The organisations are challenging what they say is the “current failure to roll-out the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to all learners”. “The NSNP normally provides meals to over nine million learners every day, but was halted when schools closed on 18 March 2020, jeopardizing the food security of these learners and exacerbating the severe hardship experienced within their households," Represented by the Equal Education Law Centre and Section27, the organisations have filed legal papers at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria which argue that the failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll-out the NSNP to all qualifying pupils is a regressive measure that violates learners' rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality. While schools had been closed under the national COVID-19 lockdown, children have not had access to the nutritious meals they would normally receive at school. “The closure of the NSNP impacts not only on the health and education of learners, but has knock-on effects on entire families – in a context of heightened unemployment and loss of income due to the nationwide lockdown, many families are struggling to put food on the table. These families urgently require the NSNP to be reinstated in order to meet their children's basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home,” the bodies stated.

The programme is currently being rolled out only to pupils at school in Grades 7 and 12, while pupils who have not been permitted to return to school are not being fed, the organizations state. The organizations are seeking a declaratory order that there is a duty on government to ensure all qualifying pupils are entitled to a daily meal as provided for under the NSNP, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes at their respective schools. “We are also seeking a structural order requiring the national and provincial departments, within five days of the court order, to each provide a plan or programme to ensure that all qualifying learners receive their daily meal from the NSNP. It is imperative that the DBE and provincial education departments continue to fulfil their constitutional obligation to deliver nutrition to all eligible learners. The constitutional rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality must be protected, even during the state of national disaster.” Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga allegedly backtracked 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. In late May, with the announcement of the phased reopening of schools, the director-general of basic education undertook that the NSNP would, from 1 June, be rolled out to all pupils, including those not physically attending school.

Four days later, Motshekga retracted this, saying it would only restart for Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils "because we really need to find our feet in this new environment". However, organizations are having none of it. “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 April 30 this year. With the lockdown, there has been R1.7 billion of potentially unspent funds,” the bodies argued. Equal Education is asking a judge 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 MEC’s are in breach of their constitutional duties.

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