Basic Education department taken to court over feeding eligible school children in all grades

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga during school readiness inspections.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga during school readiness inspections.
ER Lombard, Gallo Images
  • Equal Education and the school governing bodies of two Limpopo schools have taken legal action to compel government to feed pupils under the National Schools Nutrition Programme.
  • Currently, only Grade 7 and 12 learners who have returned to school are receiving meals.
  • The organisations are calling on government to ensure all qualifying pupils receive a daily meal under the programme, regardless of whether they have resumed classes.

Equal Education (EE) and the school governing bodies (SGBs) of two Limpopo schools on Friday launched an urgent court application against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments to compel the departments to provide meals for pupils.

The organisations are challenging what they say is "the current failure to roll-out the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to all learners".

"The NSNP normally provides meals to over nine million learners every day, but was halted when schools closed on 18 March, jeopardising the food security of these learners and exacerbating the severe hardship experienced within their households," EE said in a statement.

'Regressive measure'

Represented by the Equal Education Law Centre and Section27, the organisations have filed legal papers at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria which argue that the failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll-out the NSNP to all qualifying pupils is "a regressive measure that violates learners' rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality".

While schools had been closed under the national coronavirus lockdown, children have not had access to the nutritious meals they would normally receive at school.

"The closure of the NSNP impacts not only on the health and education of learners, but has 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 NSNP to be reinstated in order to meet their children's basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home," the statement read.

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The programme is currently being rolled out to only schoolgoing pupils in Grades 7 and 12, while pupils who have not been permitted to return to school are not being fed, the organisations state.

"The DBE's Standard Operating Procedures on Covid-19 make provision for the roll-out of NSNP to occur in a safe and hygienic manner. The DBE has provided no reasonable justification for its limitation of the NSNP to only Grades 7 and 12 learners," the statement said.

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"The current disaster does not serve as a basis to deprive learners of their right to nutrition, and the DBE's failure to direct provinces to roll-out the NSNP for all eligible learners disproportionally affects learners from poor and working-class families."

Declaratory order sought

The organisations are seeking a declaratory order that there is a duty on government to ensure all qualifying pupils are entitled to a daily meal as provided for under the NSNP, 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," the statement said.

"It is imperative that the DBE and provincial education departments continue to fulfil their constitutional obligation to deliver nutrition to all eligible learners. The constitutional rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality must be protected, even during the state of national disaster."

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