WC education dept goes ahead with school feeding scheme despite threat of criminal charges

2020-04-13 16:21
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The Western Cape education department has vowed to continue to roll out its National Food Nutrition Programme (NFNP), even though the Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) laid a criminal charge on Monday, claiming it contravenes national lockdown regulations.

Icosa laid a charge against Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, saying it was "concerned about media reports in which the MEC and Premier Alan Winde are being quoted as saying that they are continuing with the NFNP" despite President Cyril Ramaphosa having declared a national lockdown.

According to Icosa national spokesperson Dawid Kamfer, the organisation received a letter from Schäfer in which she expressed her intention to continue with the NFNP. 

"The behaviour of the DA-led provincial government is irresponsible and should be stopped. They are risking exposing the lives of our children to Covid-19," Kamfer said in a statement. 

Schäfer's spokesperson, Kerry Mauchline, told News24 the department was aware of the case, as well as other organisations that opposed the rollout of the feeding scheme. Last week, Cosatu in the Western Cape said it was "shocked and highly disturbed" by the way Schäfer had handled the feeding scheme saga in the province and called for her removal. 

"The MEC's position is that [the feeding scheme] does not contravene lockdown regulations. We are all worried and frightened, but the fact is that we've had this call from communities and these children are in dire need [of food]," Mauchline said. 

Correct protocols followed

She added that, on Thursday, nearly 100 000 children were fed.

"In order to achieve this, it is very important that we follow the correct protocols."

In a statement issued last week, Schäfer outlined these protocols as:

  • Having sufficient adult supervision available to make sure pupils are following all the safety protocols;
  • Ensuring an orderly queuing system, preferably in a staggered manner, to reduce the number of pupils arriving at the same time;
  • Pupils must bring their own food containers from home, which are not touched by staff/volunteers;
  • Ensuring that pupils remain at least 1.5m apart from one another;
  • Ensuring that no more than 50 children come at a time;
  • Providing soap and water for pupils to wash their hands, or hand sanitiser;
  • Pupils will not eat at school – they will go directly to school, collect their meals, and go home.

"I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from the vast majority of our schools. Staff and volunteers have gone the extra mile to provide meals today, and I offer them my sincere thanks. It is clear that they really care about our province's children.

"We have had such an overwhelmingly positive response to our initiative, after weeks of requests from desperate communities, that I cannot understand how any organisation can be opposed to this," Schäfer had said. 

Measures are 'not enough'

Kamfer told News24 that Icosa did not believe these measures were sufficient, saying that in many cases, children did not return home immediately and hung around at shops. 

He said Icosa was in the process of drawing up a lawyer's letter to the MEC to propose an alternative plan, which includes transport arrangements. He suggested that existing infrastructure be used to drop food parcels off at pupils' homes.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) last week also accused the Western Cape government of undermining the president's plan to limit the spread of Covid-19, as some schools opened on Wednesday to feed vulnerable pupils.

In a statement, Sadtu said: "The union is equally anxious that working-class learners and their families do not have access to food during this lockdown period. However, the union believes the plan by the Western Cape government to feed the learners in schools will defeat attempts to curb the spread of Covid-19 and put the lives of vulnerable working-class learners at risk."

Cosatu said it could not allow children to risk being infected with Covid-19, while there were other ways and means to feed them.

'Shameful'

In a statement last week, Winde called attempts to politicise humanitarian relief for children "shameful".

"For many of these children, it is the only meal they will receive each day. It is therefore mind-boggling and quite frankly shameful that opposition parties, teacher unions and Cosatu in the province are calling for us to end this important humanitarian effort. The feeding scheme at schools is being conducted with strict adult supervision, social distancing and hygiene protocols in place," Winde said. 

At a national level, the feeding programme has been abandoned. At a media briefing in Pretoria on 26 March, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the department had abandoned its school nutrition programme - which feeds close to 10 million pupils - during the national lockdown.

"Outside our infrastructure, which is schools and teachers, we are unable to feed children in communities during the lockdown. It is going to be impossible to track the 9.6 million children we are feeding and say we are running the feeding scheme during the lockdown," Motshekga said. 

In an open letter to Motshekga, dated Monday, several organisations said this was "not a tenable position".

The letter was issued by Equal Education; the Equal Education Law Centre; the Centre for Child Law; Section27; and the Children's Institute. 

"Hunger and malnutrition are serious concerns, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as both result in compromised levels of immunity. 

"It is therefore necessary to put in place clear and coordinated interventions which ensure that children continue to receive the benefit of school meals. The [basic education department] must play a central role in this and cannot defer its responsibilities to other departments indefinitely," the open letter stated.

Read more on:    debbie schafer  |  cape town  |  education  |  feeding schemes
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