School meals saga goes to court as many learners go hungry

a child eating his school meal

Department of Basic Education taken to court over school nutrition programme. Picture: African News Agency (ANA).

On Thursday, the North Gauteng High Court will decide if nine million learners, who would ordinarily benefit from the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), will continue to receive these meals, regardless of whether their grades returned to schools on June 8.  

An urgent case was filed by two Limpopo schools along with the education movement, Equal Education (EE) against the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

In a joint statement issued by Equal Employment, Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27, it said: “It is shameful that the national and provincial education departments must be dragged to court to ensure the delivery of school meals.

“The NSNP is fundamental to supporting the ability of children to learn and crucial to the right to basic education.

“The DBE does not dispute that there is funding available, and that it is practically possible to provide meals safely to learners who have not yet returned to school. 

“In court papers, the DBE denies that the education departments refused to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners after June 8, however Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on June 1, that the NSNP would not be rolled out from June 1, to learners whose classes had not yet resumed.”

Broken promise

According to the joint statement, the latest promise from the DBE – that all provinces would roll-out meals to all qualifying learners from June 22 – has allegedly been broken. 

“We know the DBE and provincial education departments have failed to honour their latest commitment because we have spoken to many school communities in various provinces who are still without food.

” In Limpopo, even some learners in Grade 7 and Grade 12 are not able to receive a meal at all, or have been given smaller portions.”

Daily meals

Meanwhile, the Limpopo Department of Education said it will start feeding all learners, who are part of the NSNP, in the province from July 1.

“All learners in Grade R to 12, in quintile 1-3 who are benefiting in the programme whether they have re-opened or not, will be receiving their daily meals from their schools.

“The department has already instructed service providers to deliver food stuff to their allocated schools, for food handlers to start with preparations for all grades.

“Schools participating in the programme using the decentralised model have also been directed to procure for all their learners. Learners will only be served meals at schools,” said Limpop education MEC, Polly Boshielo.

The department urges parents and caregivers to ensure that learners, who only come to school for meals, have their masks on at all times and return home as soon as serving is done.