Co-op goes to court over school feeding

2014-05-28 00:00

THE national school nutrition programme again fell under the legal spotlight in the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday.

An Ixopo women’s co-operative obtained an urgent interim interdict preventing the KZN Education Department from causing “unidentified third parties” from delivering food to schools that are already being catered for by the co-operative.

Judge Philip Nkosi issued the interdict in favour of the Exhobo Local Women Primary Co-operative Limited, and ordered the MEC for Education in KZN and senior officials in the department to give reasons on July 7 why it should not be made final.

In terms of the court order, the department may not cause unidentified third parties to deliver food to the schools allocated to Exhobo under its existing contract.

The court also declared it illegal for the department to enter into a new contract with third parties while its contract with Exhobo still subsists, and declared that the existing contract between the department and Exhobo cannot be terminated until new tenders have been advertised and awarded.

The chairperson of Exhobo, Nomthandazo Hlongwa, said the co-operative — whose membership consists of five rural women living outside Ixopo — was established in 2006 and employs eight people to assist with the national school nutrition programme (NSNP).

She said at first the DOE had always allocated the co-operative 25 schools to feed.

The number decreased last year and since July 2013, Exhobo has been feeding 10 schools.

According to Hlongwa, the department has not paid the co-op since July last year, but said Exhobo has nonetheless continued to honour its obligations and provide food for these schools.

She said the co-op currently owes food handlers two months’ salary because of the non-payment by the DOE.

Although current NSNP contracts with the DOE were due to expire on March 31, the contracts were extended in terms of circulars issued by the department, and remain valid until June 30.

Hlongwa said on May 22 she received a call about “people” at the schools her co-op feeds, who claimed they were there to supply food on the instructions of the DOE.

“We could not establish if these were new suppliers or employees of the department,” she said.

Hlongwa said one person introduced herself as a “Mrs Thabethe” from Kokstad where the office of the district director for Sisonke district is. Another gave a “strange and confusing name” being “MSNCWABRU Business Enterprise”.

“What is clear is that none of the people were from the local surroundings as the principals didn’t know them,” said Hlongwa.

She said the deputy director of the NSNP in the province, Nonkululeko Ndlela, had told Exhobo’s attorney that she didn’t know that the service providers had changed, and that only the provincial office of the DOE could cancel contracts.

Further attempts to clarify the status of the “third parties” were unsuccessful.

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