DBE accused of failing to roll out Nutrition Programme effectively

Johannesburg – The Department of Basic Education will again be dragged to court for allegedly failing to roll out the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to qualifying learners for over a year.

A statement by Equal Education (EE) and the school governing bodies (SGBs) of two Limpopo schools, represented by SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), claim that the last report they received from the DBE in March 2021, states that approximately 1.5 million learners across the country were not receiving the daily school meals.

But according to their own research conducted by SECTION27 recently, of the 53 schools surveyed, 49% or 26 schools said that not all learners receive meals on the days they are not at school due to rotational timetables.

They claim the situation was particularly bad in Limpopo, where 13 of the 22 schools surveyed said that learners don’t receive meals on days that they are at home.

“Of the 43 parents/caregivers that we asked about whether their children receive NSNP meals on days that they do not attend school, 74% (32 parents/caregivers) reported that their children do not. Only 10 parents (23%) reported that their children do! It is clear that this is a problem in each of the provinces surveyed, with at least half of all parents/caregivers in each province saying that their children do not receive meals when they are at home,” reads the statement.

However, when asked which schools this was, Equal Education said the information was confidential.

They also said parents of affected learners refused to be interviewed.

“After contacting some of the parents and SGB members, none feel comfortable speaking to the press. They participated in the survey anonymously and didn’t want to share these stories further,” said Communications officer for SECTION27 Julia Chaskalson.

They said in the statement that they will ask for a new court order that declares that education officials have not met their constitutional obligations to provide daily meals to all qualifying learners, and have not fulfilled the requirement to submit plans and monitoring reports, as ordered by Judge Poterill in July 2020.

“The education MECs and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should give the court reasons why they shouldn’t be fined or sent to jail for being in contempt of the court order. We are asking the court to order the national and provincial education departments to file new, revised plans to deliver the NSNP, that take into account the continued challenges posed by COVID-19.

We are asking the court to order that these new plans be filed within a month and that the education departments file monthly updates on implementing the new solutions with the court until the court says they can stop doing so.”

In July 2020, the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division) ordered that Minister Motshekga and the education MECs for eight provinces must roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners – regardless of whether learners had physically returned to school or not.

“Yet a full year later, education officials have failed to develop practical or realistic plans for the NSNP which address the new realities of schooling during COVID-19, and many vulnerable learners are missing out on daily school meals. Many provincial education departments have also stopped submitting the monitoring reports that the court ordered them to compile. After trying to resolve these problems directly with national and provincial education departments through letters and submissions, we are now going back to court to demand that they comply with the June 2020 court order.

“The July 2020 court order reiterates that learners’ rights to basic nutrition, equality and dignity are interconnected, unqualified and must be realised immediately. The currently inconsistent and incomplete rollout of the NSNP violates these rights.  We have asked for an urgent court hearing date within this month.”

Department of Basic Education Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said they had received documents and are processing them.

“The Department will make its position known soon regarding this matter. The legal team is currently preparing a response. We will comment once the Department’s position has been finalised,” he said.

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