Equal Education (EE) is extremely troubled by reports that thousands of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) learners, dependent on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) for a daily meal, are going hungry due to poor administration of the tender process on the part of the KZN Education Department. It is unconscionable for learners dependent on the NSNP as a poverty alleviation mechanism to be left in the lurch in this way.
Reports of tender irregularities, poor administrative capacity, and non-delivery in KZN are not new. The implementation of the NSNP in KZN has for years been beset with very serious problems. The impact of this crucial R1,450 billion programme, on which over 2,3 million learners depend, has been undermined by incompetence  and corruption .
According to a Mail & Guardian  article published on Friday, NSNP contracts have been awarded to companies that do not exist, and to companies that as at last Friday were unaware that their tender bids were successful. New suppliers had either not met with principals, or they had not visited the schools in order to ascertain whether the schools had electricity or required stoves. The newspaper this week reports that at least 50 000 learners did not receive an NSNP meal on the first day of the new school term (Monday 24 July) .
It is unacceptable, and insulting to KZN learners, that when the KZN Education Department was alerted to this by Mail & Guardian, Department Spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi responded glibly via SMS, and refused to say whether the Department was making any effort to investigate or to monitor the provision of meals .
Adequate school nutrition is an essential component to realising the right to education for all learners. EE has previously formally written to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to impress upon it the urgent need to improve implementation of the NSNP.
The link between cognitive ability and nutrition cannot be overstated. In the short term, empty stomachs will mean learners struggling to concentrate in class; in the long term, it will undermine their growth and development. A failure to ensure food security for children is a barrier to educational achievement.
The NSNP has been held up as the model of a successful conditional grant, and has played an important role in enabling learners to stay in school, and focus on learning. However, with its emphasis on decentralised local providers comes the responsibility of the State to rigorously monitor the performance of these providers, and ensure watertight tender processes are followed to appoint them. But recent, publicly available government reporting on the roll-out and impact of the NSNP is cursory and superficial – whether contained in documents such as DBE annual reports or in the form of reports to and by Parliament. Monitoring and evaluation of the programme must be conducted in a manner that fosters public accountability. National funding for the NSNP stands at R6,426 billion  – we cannot allow a single cent to be wasted. For even one learner to go hungry is one too many!
EE demands that the DBE, the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, and the Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Education, exercise adequate oversight of the implementation of the NSNP – particularly in provinces such as KZN where there are persistent challenges that have dire consequences.
Millions of children in South Africa depend on the school nutrition programme. For many, many learners, it is their only meal of the day. Protecting the integrity of the NSNP and ensuring its efficacy is of paramount importance. The people of KZN and of this country must demand better from the government that is mandated to serve them!
For further media comment:
Mila Kakaza (EE Spokesperson) 076 553 3133
Leanne Jansen-Thomas (EE Head of Policy and Training) 079 4949 411
 BDLive, Judging of tenders outsourced to fight corruption, via https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2014-04-25-judging-of-tenders-outsourced-to-fight-corruption/
 KZN Department of Education, 2015/16 Annual Report
 Mail & Guardian, KZN School Lunches May Be Off Menu, via: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-07-21-00-kzn-school-lunches-may-be-off-menu
 Mail & Guardian, At Least 50 000 Children Go Hungry in KwaZulu-Natal, via https://mg.co.za/article/2017-07-24-at-least-50-000-children-go-hungry-in-kwazulu-natal
 2017 Division of Revenue Bill, National Treasury.