27 January 2021

Joint media statement: Minister Motshekga, don’t let child hunger continue! Honour the spirit of the court judgment and provide meals to learners from today! 

#SchoolMealsNow #9MillionMeals #FamiliesNeedNSNP

Equal Education (EE), Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), and SECTION27 are bitterly disappointed and angry that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has failed to provide clear plans for resuming the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). Learners have been forced to remain home for much longer than expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are concerned that the DBE has not made public its preparations to resume the NSNP, to fight hunger and malnutrition while schools are closed.  We strongly believe this goes against a commitment the DBE made in October 2020, to ensure learners receive meals during a second wave of COVID-19 infections. To provide school meals only when classrooms reopen on 15 February also goes against the spirit of the court order which we won in July 2020, which confirmed that the DBE must provide meals for learners even then they do not attend school.

For many learners, the meal that they receive from school is their only guaranteed meal of the day, and so many learners received their last regular meal when schools closed on 15 December 2020. With the new date for school reopening set to 15 February, learners have been without nutritious meals from school for eight weeks – double the length of the usual school holiday. 

The right to basic education (Section 29(1)(a) of the Constitution) and the right of children to basic nutrition (Section 28(1)(c) of the Constitution are interconnected and unqualified rights that must be immediately  realised. This means the government cannot say it does not have the resources (such as money) for these rights to be realised, and cannot delay its duty to ensure that learners’ rights to basic education and basic nutrition are met.  Nutrition – alongside school infrastructure, textbooks and scholar transport – is a central part of the right to basic education.

Despite indications on 18 January 2021 from the DBE which suggested that the NSNP would resume for all learners today, the latest amendments to the Directions on school reopening – which guide education departments in their response to COVID-19 and the delay of the reopening of schools this year – are silent on providing school meals to learners from today, which is the date on which schools were going to open before it was changed to 15 February.

It is extremely disturbing  that Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade has said publicly that school meals will only be provided when learners are back in school. When he made this statement last week (22 January), it went against what was set out in draft Amended Directions which were shared with us by the DBE on 18 January. We have written to the DBE and provincial education departments to clarify this statement. In our letter, we also highlight problems in the final version of the Directions, urging the government to publish clear plans about the resuming of the National School Nutrition PRogramme for all learners from today. 

We are deeply worried that the DBE’s silence on providing school meals means that the National School Nutrition Programme is not enough of a priority for government, and will mean that hunger among learners who qualify for the NSNP will continue. 

“It’s a struggle for me and my family as we don’t have enough food to sustain us throughout the lockdown, even for a single month because we depend on one source of income (my father). That makes it worse during this lockdown, we spend most of our time indoors. In all, it’s physically exhausting and emotionally draining to stay in hunger most of the time, because we also can’t get any food parcels.”

 Eastern Cape Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education), May 2020

“I think I’ve lost a few kilos because I don’t get enough food, mostly it has affected me emotionally and mentally because I can’t study with an empty stomach, let alone do anything at all.”

– Gauteng Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education), May 2020

“[I am] sad that we had to resort to taking the Minister and the MECs to court for what they should have been doing for many learners who benefit and qualify from the feeding scheme. This victory comes at a time where many families struggle to access enough food and have to choose between buying data or food for their children to learn at home.”

– Tshepo Mabunda, Limpopo Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education), July 2020

“The government fails to realise that most learners are fed through the NSNP. Most learners go to school hungry with hope that they’ll find food at school.”  

– Ntombi Mngomezulu, KwaZulu-Natal Equaliser (learner member of Equal Education), November 2020

[END]

Note to editors: If quoting directly from this statement, please quote Equal Education, Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27.

To arrange a media interview, contact:

Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) jay-dee@equaleducation.org.za or 082 924 1352

Tad Khosa (EELC Media and Communications Coordinator) 081 346 0180 tad@eelawcentre.org.za  

Julia Chaskalson (SECTION27 Communications Officer) 083 440 2674 chaskalson@section27.org.za