Motshekga taken to court for “backtracked” promise to reinstate feeding programme

In some households it’s a choice between buying food or the data needed to study online

By Tania Broughton

14 June 2020

Civil society organisations have been feeding children since the suspension of the National Schools Nutrition Programme under the Covid-19 lockdown. Archive photo: Brenton Geach

Education activists and some schools are taking Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga to court after she “backtracked” on a promise to reinstate the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to feed nine million learners from this month, irrespective of whether or not they are back at school.

The urgent application brought in the North Gauteng High Court by Equal Education and supported by the Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, describes the struggles of learners and their families in their own words.

One desperate mother says she has had to borrow money from a loan shark to feed her children during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Matric learners speak of feeling guilty for having a school meal while their siblings at home go hungry.

It’s so stressful, says one learner, because her young brother cries for food and “there are family fights over bread”.

In some households, it’s a choice between buying food or the data they need to continue studying online.

The NSNP is designed to ensure that Constitutional rights to education and nutrition are met. For many it is the only hot, nutritious meal they get every day.

But the scheme was abruptly stopped in March when schools closed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The impact, Equal Education general secretary Noncedo Madubedube says in her affidavit filed with the court, has been devastating with child hunger across the country widely reported.

And then in late May, with the announcement of the phased re-opening of schools, the director-general of basic education undertook that the NSNP would, from 1 June, be rolled out to all learners including those not physically attending school.

Four days later, Madubedube says, Motshekga retracted this, saying it would only restart for grade seven and 12 learners “because we really need to find our feet in this new environment”.

This meant that at one Limpopo school for instance, only 74 out of 503 learners would be fed; at another, only 32 out of 298 would receive the daily meal.

“It appears the national government is not taking any responsibility for what is a national programme. It appears to have passed the buck to the provinces to do, or not to, whatever they wish,” says Madubedube.

“The minister has given no legitimate reason for this failure. It’s not a new programme. All that is new is the need to ensure that it is done in a manner that does not place providers and learners at risk. All that is needed is planning and implementation.

“Funding is available to roll out the NSNP to all grades. It is a specific purpose grant. The total budget for this year is R7.6 billion and each province would have received its initial allocations by April 30 this year. With the lockdown, there has been R1.7 billion of potentially unspent funds.”

Equal Education is asking a judge to declare that all qualifying learners, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal and that the minister and the provincial MECs (barring the Western Cape, which has publicly committed to rolling out feeding) are in breach of their constitutional duties.

It says a structural interdict is required so that there is court supervision going forward. “We are asking that they be ordered within five days, to file under oath a plan [for an] implementation programme and that they file further reports every 15 days until the order is discharged,” said Madubedube.

The minister and the MECs have until Wednesday 17 June to file any opposing affidavits after which the matter will be placed on the court roll.