Learners must get meals during Covid-19 pandemic, court orders

Minister and MECs to provide detailed plans within a month

By Tania Broughton

21 July 2021

Learners who depend on the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) must get school meals during the Covid-19 pandemic, a court has ordered. Graphic: Lisa Nelson

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and eight provincial education departments have been ordered by a court to provide meals to learners who need them during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The negotiated settlement, made an order of court, has put Motshekga and the provincial education MECs on terms to to produce, within one month, a “realistic and practical” plan to provide qualifying learners with a daily meal during the pandemic.

Equal Education (EE), which launched the court proceedings, says it will be closely monitoring and evaluating the revised plans “in the spirit of cooperation and with the shared interest of putting learners first” and to ensure the successful rollout of the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

This week, EE and two Limpopo schools sought an urgent order from the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria against the Minister and the MECs, claiming they were in breach of a previous order granted in July last year, that they ensure that all qualifying learners, whether attending school or not, were given a daily meal.

The most recent statistics in March this year, showed that some 1.5 million learners were still going hungry, EE said in its court papers.

EE and the schools said the Minister and the MEC’s were also in breach of the conditions of the July 2020 order, that they report back to the court on progress every month. In this regard, EE asked the court to grant an order that, with the exception of the MEC of Education for the Free State, they be directed to provide reasons as to why they should not be held in contempt of court and sent to jail or fined.

EE wanted an order giving Motshekga and the MECs a month to formulate and implement revised “realistic” school feeding scheme plans, detailing any challenges, and with proper roll-out directions.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, EE and its legal representatives SECTION27 and Equal Education Law Clinic, said in response to the urgent court application, the respondents’ legal representatives had proposed a negotiated settlement which had now been made an order of court.

“It contains clear commitments for the existing delivery of the NSNP to be revised and for reasonable time frames for implementation,” the statement said.

The court order states that the plan will take into consideration the challenges experienced so far in delivering the NSNP during Covid-19; the need for realistic and responsive plans that ensure every qualifying learner receives a meal - either through hot meals or food parcels - under the NSNP; the need to feed every qualifying learner during the school calendar year, regardless of whether schools are closed due to COVID-19 or whether learners are at home because of a rotational timetable; and, the need for communication plans that ensure that all learners and schooling stakeholders are aware that meals are being provided, the manner in which meals will be provided, and the availability of scholar transport where applicable.

The plan must also include the steps taken by the education authorities to comply with their obligations, and when each step will be taken.

The first report must be filed within one month and then further reports must be filed monthly.

“This order is a victory for learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education, equality and dignity,” the statement read.

“It is a victory for over nine million learners and the millions of households whose food security has been compromised during the Covid-19 lockdown and the current unrest within South Africa.”