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Joint media statement: Hope in the fight against child hunger, as court orders government to rethink its plans to ensure that all learners get school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic!

“I am happy about this court order because it helps those learners who depend on school meals a lot. It means that their hunger will be decreased because they are able to eat at school, and they will no longer worry when they come to school because the NSNP provides them with food. I think it’s cool that they helped many poor learners who do not have anything at home.” – Gracious, learner member of Equal Education, Limpopo 

Victory is ours! Like any other battle we as Equal Education have faced, we take pride in every victory we make, at least now we have been assured that NO learner would go to school on an empty stomach and we will still [check] different schools just to make sure that indeed learners are receiving food as per [the court] agreement. #VivaEqualEducation #IsikhaloSomthwanaSihoye – Xolani Nkabane, post-school youth member of Equal Education, Gauteng 

The High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division) has ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments to develop new plans to feed the over nine million learners that depend on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), even when schools are closed because of COVID-19 or learners are at home because of rotating timetables. 

This court order, confirmed yesterday on 20 July 2021, is a victory for learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education, equality and dignity. We are hopeful that the new plans that the DBE and provincial education departments have been ordered to develop to improve the rollout of the NSNP, can guarantee that it reaches every single learner who qualifies for it.

This new court order comes after Equal Education (EE) and two Limpopo school governing bodies, represented by SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), went back to court on 29 June 2021 against the DBE and the MECs of eight provincial education departments for failing to ensure that the NSNP reaches every qualifying learner, despite a judgment handed down last year that demanded that they fulfil this responsibility. We went back to the court to get the education departments to submit progress reports on the rollout of the NSNP, like the 2020 court order told them to do but which they have failed to do since March 2021. We also asked the court  to tell education officials to develop and implement practical and realistic plans for the NSNP which respond to the new realities of schooling during COVID-19, and for monthly reports to be submitted  on the implementation of these plans. 

The situation became more and more urgent, with qualifying learners not being able to get meals  because of barriers such as not having scholar transport and poor communication from education officials with school communities. The mental, physical and financial impact that food insecurity has on learners and their families is tragic, and unacceptable.  

In response to our return to court, the legal representatives of the national and provincial education departments proposed that we negotiate a legal settlement.  On 20 July 2021, the settlement agreement was made an order of court. This agreement contains clear commitments for the existing systems for the delivery of the NSNP to be revised, and for reasonable timeframes for implementation. The order has the following terms: 

  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and provincial education departments will formulate and implement revised rollout plans within one month of signing the settlement agreement, to ensure that all qualifying learners receive a daily meal under the NSNP, whether at school or at home
  • These plans must take into consideration:
    • The challenges experienced with the roll-out of 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;
    • 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 need for directions or guidance to provincial education departments to ensure that they carry out their duties without delay.
  • These plans must include: 
    • The steps Minister Motshekga and provincial education departments will take to comply with their obligations; 
    • When Minister Motshekga and provincial education departments will take each step planned.
  • These revised plans must be filed with us and with the court within one month. After this,  monthly reports must be filed with us and the court describing the implementation of the revised plans; explaining if the steps taken have succeeded, what further steps will be taken to ensure that the plans succeed, and when the education departments  will take each of these steps.

We welcome this court order and celebrate this 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! 

We will be evaluating the revised plans put forward by the DBE and provincial education departments to ensure successful rollout of the NSNP. In the spirit of cooperation and with the shared interest of putting learners first, we will continue to diligently monitor and analyse the progress reports submitted by the education departments, to ensure that the rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality are upheld.

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For media queries and interviews, contact: 

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

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

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

 

Leanne Jansen-ThomasJoint media statement: Hope in the fight against child hunger, as court orders government to rethink its plans to ensure that all learners get school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic!