1.5-million pupils battle starvation, charges EE

Johannesburg – The Department of Basic Education and Equal Education (EE) are at loggerheads over the government’s school nutrition programme.

The department has refuted EE’s allegation that more than 1.5-million pupils are still not provided with school meals.

The civil society said in a statement that some provincial education departments were routinely failing to report whether they were effectively rolling out the national school nutrition programme (NSNP). This despite a court mandating them to do so.

However, department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the 1.5-million pupils EE was referring to were among those who did not return to school at all as a result of Covid-19.

“Some have moved to other places as a result of unemployment or changes in family circumstances. It is completely untrue to create an impression that the department is refusing to feed the children, or that it is deliberately withholding the meals,” said Mhlanga.

“It is false and unwise to suggest that the department has the capacity to know the reasons why some learners are not coming through to get their meals even after all attempts have been made to help them with transport, collection of meals at the nearest schools, and also the option of distributing food parcels as done in some provinces. “A false impression must never be created that the department doesn’t care. It is wrong and misleading. The department is doing its best under the current circumstances to provide the much-needed meals to all beneficiaries.”

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and provincial MECs were a year ago ordered by the high court in Pretoria to take immediate steps to ensure that the 9-million pupils who rely on the national school feeding scheme get daily meals, whether they are at school or have opted to study at home.

EE had taken the department to court seeking both a declaratory and supervisory order, to force the government to roll out the NSNP to all eligible children without delay, regardless of whether the pupils have returned to school or not.

The EE, which consists of parents, teachers and students, claims it received the last round of monitoring reports from the minister and the director-general of the department, as well as the education MECs of KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, after the court deadline of March 19 2021.

“The department and provincial education departments have not submitted the most recent round of monitoring reports, which were due on April 14 2021,” reads EE’s statement.

A survey of 300 Equalisers (EE learner members) across the five provinces, where EE organises, last month showed that 91% of learners received meals on the days they were at school, but that up to 50% of learners were unable to get meals or food parcels on the days they were not at school because of rotating school timetables.

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