Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: GCIS

An education lobby group and two schools in Limpopo have launched an urgent court application against the government for failing to roll out its nutrition programme to all students.

Equal Education and the school governing bodies of two Limpopo schools represented by the Equal Education Law Centre; the Children’s Institute; the Centre for Child Law; and public interest law centre Section27, have filed legal papers at the North Gauteng high court, arguing that the failure of both the national and provincial department of basic education is a “regressive measure that violates learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality”.

Child rights organisations have, in recent weeks, been urging basic education minister Angie Motshekga to revive the school feeding scheme, saying its suspension is jeopardising the welfare of millions of students.

Schools have been shut for most of the lockdown period as part of the government efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19. The government has implemented a phased reopening of public and independent schools, with pupils in their final years of primary and secondary school given the green light to return earlier in June, and the rest in July and August.

Motshekga has previously said her department does not have the capacity to provide food to children in their communities, and so the job has been taken over by the department of social development, through its implementing agencies. But activists have questioned whether children are getting the nutrition they need, and raised concerns about the safety of the distribution points being used by the department of social development.

Schools offer the safest and most efficient way to provide students with food, said Equal Education, the Equal Education Law Centre, the Children’s Institute, Section 27, and the Centre for Child Law in an open letter sent to Motshekga in April.

Negative knock-on effects

On Friday, the lobby groups said the closure of the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) negatively affected not only the health and education of pupils, but had 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 [feeding scheme] to be reinstated to meet their children’s basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home.”

The groups pointed out that in May the department of basic education had committed to reinstating the programme to all eligible pupils when schools reopened for grades 7 and 12. But in June, the department backtracked on this commitment, with Motshekga stating that the the department only had “intentions” of reopening the programme to all eligible learners at a later stage.

“[The department] offered no timeframes or plans for such a rollout. It claimed it did not have the capacity to roll out ‘new programmes’ despite the fact that the NSNP has been in operation since 1994, and has been widely lauded for its successes in combating learner hunger and improving learner outcomes,” the lobby groups said in a joint statement.

They said they are seeking a declaratory order that there is a duty on the government to ensure that all qualifying learners are entitled to receive a daily meal as provided for under the national programme 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.”

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