School suppliers cry foul

2012-07-02 00:00

A GROUP of suppliers who feed thousands of pupils at KwaZulu-Natal schools is taking the Education Department to court over its insistence on adding chicken stew to the menu.

The Masondle Ngeqiniso Food Suppliers’ Association, representing around 300 suppliers, fears that the poultry will bring them hidden costs and burdens.

Mostly owners of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), they say they’ll have to travel in vehicles not equipped with coolers for distances of up to 60 km to rural schools without electricity for fridges.

“Chicken will rot,” said one supplier.

Then there’s the cost of what goes into cooking up a chicken stew: cooking oil and spices.

The department has budgeted an increase of three cents per meal from the existing R2,15 to encourage suppliers to come up with the required ingredients.

“Chicken is going to be beyond our budget with a three cents increase,” said the association’s Lucky Mnikathi.

A piece of chicken can cost R10, he lamented.

Another supplier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the three cents increase did not keep up with inflation.

“We’re going to court to challenge the menu this week,” Mnikathi added.

Another dilemma in which the suppliers find themselves is whether they’ll still have their contracts, which were extended to June after they expired in March when they would normally have been renewed.

Mnikathi said their contracts had still not yet been renewed.

“We haven’t received anything in writing from the department that our contracts have been extended.”

He fears that if things aren’t put into order, the children will suffer after they return to school on July 15.

The SMMEs in the association said they are also unhappy about the department employing co-operatives as service providers.

An interim interdict was granted by the high court in Pietermaritzburg for the department to cease awarding contracts to co-operatives.

An amount of R1,151 billion has been allocated to the feeding programme, which provides meals for more than 2,2 million pupils in KwaZulu-Natal, for the financial year.

Education Department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi agreed that the money allocated to suppliers was not enough.

“We agree that the money we’re giving them isn’t enough, but it’s based on the affordability.”

But he promised that every cent would be spent on feeding pupils.

He explained that a chicken stew twice a month would improve their diet.

“You’ll find these children eat chicken once a week as compared to their peers who come from affluent families. They need all the proteins for healthy bodies,” he added.

He said the department respected the court’s interdict and would engage with the SMMEs accordingly.

He also said the head of department had sent a circular to principals and school governing bodies back in March, when their contracts ended, informing them that suppliers could continue their contracts until June.

Mahlambi said the department was working hard to see that all pupils were fed after schools reopen.

Meanwhile, suppliers spoke of how tough it could be in their businesses — sometimes having to live with 90 days with no pay from the department.

Mnikathi told The Witness that some suppliers resorted to loan sharks to survive. “I’ve seen so many suppliers lose business. In this business you either sink or swim.”

• gabisile.ngcobo@witness.co.za

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