National School Nutrition Programme – the campaign for #SchoolMealsNow

Support basic nutrition - #SchoolMealsNow

Contents

What is the National School Nutrition Programme?

The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) is a national school feeding scheme that feeds over 9 million learners nutritious meals every day at school.

Since 1994, the programme has tried to improve the ability of children to learn by combatting malnutrition, reducing hunger and improving school attendance. The programme is critical for furthering learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition (Section 28(1)(c) of the Constitution) and basic education (Section 29(1)(a) of the Constitution). 

The NSNP is funded by a conditional grant, meaning that the R7 billion budget is especially put aside for the sole purpose of providing school meals.

Targeting schools in socio-economic quintiles one, two and three, the NSNP has been widely celebrated as one of the government’s most effective ‘pro-poor’ interventions for its impressive scope. The NSNP reaches the most vulnerable children in the country.

Learn more about the NSNP, and our urgent court case with Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre to ensure that it be resumed for all eligible learners regardless of whether or not they were back at school, in the fact sheet below:

Fact sheet on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) or school feeding scheme
Second page of fact sheet on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) or school feeding scheme

A timeline of events (and broken promises) that lead us to court to fight for #SchoolMealsNow

The DBE and provincial education departments have made numerous promises about resuming the NSNP for all learners, but later broke these commitments. These broken promises violate learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality – and contribute to the increased suffering of entire households during this difficult time. In a context of heightened food insecurity amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the NSNP reaches millions of households who need nutritional support now more than ever – government should use the programme effectively to combat hunger and suffering. 

March
  • 18 March: schools close to combat the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa. At this point, over 9 million learners stopped receiving a daily meal at school through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). 
  • 26 March: Nationwide lockdown commences – millions of families lose their sources of income, and food insecurity increases. 
April
  • 10 April: EE, EELC, SECTION27, Children’s Institute and the Centre for Child Law, write an Open Letter called: ‘Open Letter To The Minister Of Basic Education Planning In A Time Of Crisis – School Feeding Schemes Can And Must Continue.’
    • Minister Angie Motshekga had claimed that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) had “accessed [their] capacity” and that they would not “be able to” run feeding schemes during the lockdown.
    • In this letter, we challenged her position, saying: “The continuation of school nutrition provisioning for learners is critical and urgent and we urge you to ensure that children’s needs are prioritised and protected in government’s plans.”
    • We only received a response a month later, on 11 May 2020, in which the DBE stated that the NSNP would only resume once schools reopened.
  • 17 April: EELC and SECTION27 write a letter to the Presidency and DBE, urging for the reinstatement of the NSNP for all learners, regardless of whether or not they had returned to school.
  • 20 April: With partners at the Children’s Institute and the Centre for Child Law, EE, EELC and SECTION7 called for an urgent joint meeting on children’s access to food with Parliament’s Portfolio Committees on Basic Education and Social Development. 
    • In a letter to both Portfolio Committees, we called for constitutional oversight of the two departments to “ensure that children have access to basic nutrition.”
  • 29 April: Government publishes new lockdown Regulations in the Government Gazette, further delaying the intended phased reopening of schools. 
May
  • 11 May: Council Education Ministers (CEM) decided that the NSNP would be provided to all learners when schools reopened, based on context sensitive models. 
    • CEM suggests the distribution of food parcels, food vouchers or staggered time-slots for receiving school meals as solutions to child hunger. 
  • 19 May: Minister Motshekga publicly commits to providing the NSNP to all learners when schools reopen.
    DBE Director General Mathanzima Mweli confirms this decision in a letter to the SA Human Rights Commission, and later again on 26 May in a public meeting with civil society organisations hosted by the National Education Collaboration Trust.
  • 20 May: DBE publishes Standard Operating Procedures for Covid-19 in schools, detailing guidelines for resuming the NSNP safely.
    The Western Cape Education Department circulates a guideline on the provision of school meals, indicating the province would feed all learners, including those not attending school.
  • 22 May: Limpopo circular on NSNP contradicts this, instructing NSNP service providers to cater only for grades 7 and 12 – the grades due to return to school soonest. 
  • 29 May: DBE publishes directions for the reopening of schools, prescribing 1 June as date for reopening for grades 7 and 12. 
  • 31 May: The CEM meets and delays the reopening of schools for grades 7 and 12 to 8 June 2020
June
  • 1 June: Minister Angie Motshekga makes a statement publicly, delaying the reopening of schools to 8 June and backtracks on commitments to resume the NSNP for all qualifying learners:

“We would have wished also even to provide nutrition for grades that we have not phased in. But I had requested the sector and the MEC[s] to say maybe we need to wait a little. Get ourselves to acclimatise to the new environment, manage that which we are still struggling to get right before we can introduce new programmes…”

Minister Motshekga
  • DBE does not mention any plans for learners who could not yet return to school.
  • 2 June: SECTION27, EE, EELC write to Minister Motshekga seeking clarity on intentions regarding the NSNP, threatening legal action if DBE did not share plans publicly. The next day, we argued that “The proposed suspension of the NSNP is a regressive measure in violation of various rights enshrined in the Constitution” in a statement.
  • 6 June: Minister responds to our 2 June letter, confirming that all learners will receive meals based on context-specific plans and it “will take a gradual process to acclimatize with the new environment.”
  • 8 June: schools reopen for grades 7 and 12 across the country, but the NSNP does not resume for learners who are at home.
    • Research from our team showed that many schools did not in fact have enough food even for the grades 7 and 12 learners who had returned. 
  • 9 June: DG presents to Command Council on state of readiness for reopening of schools, indicating that supplies of food received by schools varied from province to province. In KZN, for example, only 74 schools had received food supplies.
  • 12 June: EE and two school governing bodies in Limpopo launch an urgent application to the North Gauteng High Court [Equal Education and others v. Department of Basic Education and others 2020].

Testimonies given under affidavit from learners, caregivers, teachers and school governing bodies demonstrated the extent of the hunger in the absence of the NSNP: 

“I had to get a job doing gardening to earn some money to buy food. My sister and I do not have enough food at home. Without the meals from school, I could not concentrate on school work because I was hungry.”

– Matric learner, Limpopo

“The government must also think about those learners at home. I feel bad because I am receiving meals at school while my younger sister is still struggling at home. It is not right.”

– Matric Equaliser (learner member of EE), Gauteng

“I have been extremely stressed during this period but because I am a mother, I have to make a plan to make sure my family does not go hungry. I have had to resort to taking loans from a loan shark in order to make sure my family survives. The weight on my shoulders is heavy.”

– Single mother of five, Limpopo

It is “unfair that some children will be able to benefit and others will not be able to” since “parents are no longer working and need the feeding scheme now more than ever”.

– Grade 10 Equaliser (learner member of EE), Gauteng
  • 15-19 June: our impending legal action spurs the DBE into hurried action – On 19 June, the DBE sent a circular to all provinces compelling provincial departments to start feeding all learners from 22 June. 
    • various provinces publish circulars indicating that provinces are making plans to reinstate the NSNP for all learners on “context-specific plans”.
    • A flash survey from our team showed that this that the DBE broke yet another promise – meals were not distributed to all eligible learners from 22 June. “Chaos and confusion” characterised the rollout of the NSNP during the period. 
  • 29 June: members of SECTION27 staff, Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre peacefully demonstrate by hanging up banners on prominent bridges around Johannesburg, calling for the reinstatement of school feeding schemes for all eligible learners.
July
  • 1 July: members of SECTION27 staff, Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre peacefully protest outside the Union Buildings and the Department of Basic Education headquarters in Pretoria – taking the message of #SchoolMealsNow to the Presidency and national Basic Education department.
  • 2 July: Judge Potterill presides over a virtual court hearing of the urgent application Equal Education and others v. the Department of Basic Education and others. Here, we argued that the rights to basic education and basic nutrition are interdependent. The decision not to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners – where plans were made to do so safely, and that education authorities had made promises to that effect – was irrational, unreasonable and unlawful.
  • This same day, the DBE postponed the reopening of schools for grades 1, 2, 3 and 10, with only grades R, 6 and 11 receiving the go-ahead to return to school. This further delayed the rollout of the NSNP for learners who qualified for the feeding scheme but could not return to school.
  • 15 July: The release of the results of the first wave of National Income Dynamics Survey – Covid-19 Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) show increased conditions of hunger. This nationally representative survey conducted by researchers across the country shows that 47% of respondents had run out of food in the month of April, and that 1 in 7 participants reported a child had gone hungry in the week prior to the survey. 1 in 13 respondents reported that a child had gone hungry for 3 or more days in a week, demonstrating a notable level of frequent child hunger in the absence of the NSNP.

The court order: a victory for 9 million learners!

On 17 July 2020, acting Deputy Judge President Sulet Potterill ruled that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and eight Education MECs neglected  their Constitutional duties by failing to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners – whether those learners were back at school or at home.

Judge Potterill ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments to submit plans to show how they would roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners (over nine million learners) within 10 days of the judgment of the court, and to after that provide the court with updated plans every 15 days.

The judgment confirms that the right to basic education (Section 29(1)(a) of the Constitution) and the child’s right to basic nutrition (Section 28(1)(a) of the Constitution) are interconnected and unqualified rights that are immediately realisable – in other words, that the government cannot delay their duties to ensure that learners’ rights to basic education and basic nutrition are met. This means that the government must provide for these unqualified rights when parents and caregivers are unable to, such as when they cannot afford to. The judgment affirms that nutrition – alongside school infrastructure, textbooks and scholar transport – is a central part of the right to basic education.

Monitoring the supervisory order: the work continues

We have now, with our partners, begun monitoring the implementation of the NSNP judgment to ensure that the DBE and provincial education departments are in fact complying with the court order and rolling out the NSNP to all eligible learners.

“I am pleased about the news of the judgment that has come through and I know parents and children are also going to be pleased. Hunger is not a good thing especially when children aren’t eating. It’s good that children will now be able to eat. They are grateful, we are grateful.” 

Davhula Azwindini Ivone, school governing body Chairperson at Vhulaudzi Secondary School, one of the applicant schools in the case.

Report problems with the NSNP by contacting one of these phone numbers:


Read more about the National School Nutrition Programme campaign: