High Court grants declaratory order to resume feeding scheme for eligible school learners

There have been calls for schools to close as the country confronts the Covid-19 peak.
There have been calls for schools to close as the country confronts the Covid-19 peak.
Papi Morake, Gallo Images
  • The National School Nutrition Programme was suspended when the lockdown started in March.
  • NGO Equal Education went to court on an urgent basis to ask for a declaratory order forcing the Department of Basic Education to feed all eligible children irrelevant of whether they have returned to school or not.
  • The Gauteng High Court granted the order on Friday.

The Department of Basic Education has to roll out the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to all eligible children, regardless of whether they have returned to school or not, thanks to an order granted in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Friday.

This comes after Equal Education (EE) lodged an urgent application in July, in which it argued that all eligible children should receive their daily meal from the programme.

The nutrition programme was suspended when schools closed during the lockdown. Once schools reopened for certain grades in June, only some pupils benefited.

READ | Motshekga taken to court for 'backtracked' promise to reinstate feeding programme

In a statement, EE said the court handed down declaratory and supervisory orders, ordering the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to roll out the NSNP to all eligible children without delay.

In terms of the supervisory interdict, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the education MECs have been ordered to file detailed plans and programmes for the resumption of the NSNP to all eligible pupils within 10 days, according to EE.

"Thereafter, the minister and the MECs will be required to file updates with the court every 15 days to prove that the plans to provide meals to learners are actually being implemented," EE added in the statement.

"We celebrate this victory for the over nine million learners in South Africa who depend on the NSNP for a nutritious meal every day, and for the many learners and caregivers who put their testimonies before the court."

READ | Equal Education seeks order forcing govt to ensure all qualifying pupils are fed through scheme

"We welcome the judgment for its recognition that the constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education are inextricably linked, and celebrate this as a victory, not only for over nine million learners, but for the millions of households whose food security has been gravely compromised due to the Covid-19-necessitated lockdown."

The statement continued:

For learners to receive meals at school will ease the strain on caregivers – many of whom have lost their income and are struggling to put food on the table.

EE added that the judgment was an important piece of jurisprudence, in that the court granted a declaratory order, reiterating the constitutional and statutory duty of the Department of Basic Education and the provincial education departments to fulfil pupils' constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education by delivering the NSNP.

"Children are categorically vulnerable, poor hungry children are exceptionally vulnerable. The degree of the violation of the constitutional rights are thus egregious," Judge Sulet Potterill was quoted as saying.

News24 previously reported that the minister's advocate, Marius Oosthuizen, conceded that children did not receive their meals under the nutrition programme, but argued that the application wasn't necessary because work was being done to address the problem.

READ | Lockdown: A few 'hiccups' but school feeding on track, education dept insists

"Yes, they haven't delivered, yes there are a lot of children on the ground that haven't received their meals, but that doesn't mean we are sitting back and doing nothing," Oosthuizen said.

"We are working day and night to address this problem as soon as possible."He added that to say that there was a refusal to provide meals and attribute this failure to the minister was incorrect.

"We realise on the ground that there hasn't been delivery but on paper, we show that we are addressing the issue on the ground."

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