ANC descends on KZN as feeding scheme crisis threatens support

ANC national executive committee (NEC) heavyweights will this weekend descend on KwaZulu-Natal armed with a tool box to fix the collapsed school nutrition programme affecting poor learners in 5 000 schools across the province.

The team of ANC heavyweights will participate in the planned ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee meeting to get a first-hand report on how the provincial government intends to address the failed feeding scheme.

This after Luthuli House called for a multi-pronged investigation into the circumstances after the province discontinued the decentralised procurement method involving multiple service providers.

The school feeding scheme has been in a dire state since the start of the year, with reports of schools not getting enough food or none at all.

As a result, the ANC faced an outcry from the public, as opposition parties accused the governing party of failing to address the crisis on time.

The demise of the feeding scheme was a thorny issue on the sidelines of a four-day long ANC NEC meeting at the weekend, prompting drastic proposals including that the Department of Basic Education should take over responsibility from the provincial government.

However, the department said on Wednesday that it is premature to consider the possibility of the central government taking over the feeding scheme.

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the department, said the KwaZulu-Natal education department had successfully implemented the nutrition programme before and “they still have the capacity to do so”.

“There is no need for the Department of Basic Education to take over, especially in the context of the developments today, which have seen a return to the previous approach which worked,” said Mhlanga, referring to an announcement on Wednesday that the service provider, Pacina Retail, had terminated the contract.

“At this point, there is no need for this, it would be an extreme step to take and it is not warranted at the moment seeing that the province is putting in place measures to address the situation,” he said.

He added that the education department in KwaZulu-Natal was putting in place measures to stabilise the feeding scheme.

At the NEC gathering at the weekend, ANC members also wanted the contract terminated. They called for “an investigation into how the company gained the lucrative contract without the necessary competence”, according to a person close to the discussions.

“The provincial leadership is also clearly out of their depth on this matter,” said the insider, adding that this was the general feeling among the NEC deployees to the province.

Another NEC insider said: “The urgent KwaZulu-Natal visit by the party’s deployees would be a platform to shore up its support base by ensuring that its members actively interact with their constituencies, create space for dialogue, and make sure their constituents know the work being done to address the issue.”

With one eye on the upcoming general elections in 2024, the governing party is not leaving anything to chance, as the opposition parties exploit the scandal to discredit its policies and promises, aimed at eating into the ANC’s voter support.

The ANC’s electoral prospects also took centre stage at the NEC meeting, and the KwaZulu-Natal intervention is a step to boost the party’s public image and assure voters that it remains their preferred option.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal this week outlined a 10-point remedial action plan including that the Pacina Retail contract be terminated immediately.

The termination, said the party, should be confirmed in a court order; and that the more than R2.1-billion allocated for the national school nutrition programme must be used to drive the entrepreneurship revolution and stimulate local economic development.

“Therefore, a more district or local-wide food distribution model should be explored as a matter of urgency to ensure that all learners in schools are supplied with food,” said provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo.

“The scope of the contract must be broadened to ensure that these [small businesses] buy food directly from suppliers and deliver it to schools.

“We have received reports of [small businesses] being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to collect food for schools. Some hire trailers and bakkies. This has become a burden given rising fuel prices.”

He said the ANC is directing government to make sure that every school in KwaZulu-Natal has enough food for May, starting on Tuesday when learners go back to class after a long weekend break.

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