Equal Education’s fight to force basic education department to provide meals to all schoolchildren set to be heard this week
Nomsa Xulu* feels guilty because she eats at school, while her younger sister – who is still at home – has stopped learning due to lack of food and data.
Xulu is a Grade 12 Gauteng pupil and a beneficiary of meals delivered through government’s feeding scheme, the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), which her sister is unable to benefit from.
The demand for the delivery of meals through the programme to all pupils, including those not back at school, forms part of a court action launched on June 12 by Section27, a public centre which seeks to achieve substantive equality and social justice working with attorneys from the Equal Education Law Centre, on behalf of civil society group Equal Education (EE).
The case is scheduled to be heard at the Pretoria High Court on Thursday.
EE, in part, wants the basic education department to provide meals to all pupils, including those not at school, and also seeks a supervisory court order that would enforce compliance.
The legal debacle stems from the department’s decision to resume schooling for grades 7 and 12 only on June 8, while other pupils must stay at home due to the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown.
According to a replying affidavit filed on Monday by department director-general Mathanzima Mweli in response to the court action, the NSNP caters for 9.6 million pupils during the school term only.
City Press has seen EE’s replying affidavit filed by its general secretary, Noncedo Madubedube, on Wednesday.
She filed it in response to Mweli’s affidavit and those of his other provincial colleagues, as well as a confirmatory affidavit filed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Xulu’s painful experience has been captured in Madubedube’s affidavit.
“She feels guilty that, as a Grade 12 pupil, she is now receiving an NSNP meal but her younger sister and others in the area are still hungry. Guilt at eating when others go hungry was an emotion shared by many of the Grade 12 pupils whose testimonies are reflected in this application,” Madubedube said in the affidavit.
She said the court application related to the provision of meals to all qualifying pupils from June 8, not before the resumption of classes.
Large numbers of pupils were not being provided with meals and there was no evidence of the provision of any meals to pupils whose classes have not resumed.
The provision of meals was part of the basic right to education and nutrition, she argued.
Mweli had argued in his affidavit that the NSNP was funded through a conditional grant, which was made available on the basis that the NSNP was designed to run and operate when schools were in session – on school days when schools were open.
According to court papers, provincial education departments had planned to roll out the NSNP to other grades from this Monday past.
Madubedube argued that an investigation conducted on Tuesday had uncovered that this was not the case on the ground.
“It shows that the NSNP has not been rolled out to all qualifying pupils in all grades across the country.”
She argued that there was no evidence provided by authorities about what meals had been provided, and to whom.
“For example, no school principals or circuit managers have made affidavits providing evidence that meals have in fact been provided.
"Instead, the respondent [the department] has said that with one exception, it intends to provide food to all qualifying pupils from the ‘target’ date of June 22 2020 (the date of their affidavits).
"They have not said that they are providing food at all, or produced evidence to demonstrate this. The director-general’s answering affidavit, signed on June 22 2020, fails to show in any way that these generalised intentions have been carried out, or to what extent this has been done.
“This application was launched and served on June 12 2020. Ten days later, the respondents have provided no evidence that meals are now being provided to the qualifying pupils.
"All they have provided to the court are generalised statements of good intention. They have not even produced a plan which shows that in each province they will provide the food, and how they will do so.
"They say simply in general terms that they plan to provide the food (in most instances) from June 22 2020.
"If they had in fact provided meals on that day, by the time when the answering affidavits were made there would have been ample evidence showing what had been done in advance to place them in a position to make this happen. No such evidence is produced,” Madubedube argued.
*Not her real name
How should the basic education department be capacitated to address the problem of children going hungry because they are not yet attending school?
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