Equal Education, Limpopo school governing bodies and more than nine million pupils could claim victory on Friday as the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled that the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) had to resume immediately.
Judge Sulet Potterill ruled that this should happen regardless of whether pupils have returned to school.
She delivered judgment in the Equal Education and others vs the department of basic education (DBE) and others case, handing down both a declaratory and supervisory order, according to which the DBE should resume the programme that had been halted due to school closures amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We celebrate this victory for the over nine million learners in South Africa who depend on the NSNP for a nutritious meal every day, and for the many learners and caregivers who put their testimonies before the court,” Equal Education said in a statement.
“In an important piece of jurisprudence, the court granted a declaratory order, reiterating the constitutional and statutory duty of the DBE and the provincial education departments to fulfil learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education by delivering the NSNP.
“The judgment also, in a supervisory interdict, orders Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the Education MECs of eight provinces to file detailed plans and programmes for the resumption of the NSNP to all eligible learners within 10 days. Thereafter, the Minister and the MECs will be required to file updates with the court every 15 days to prove that the plans to provide meals to learners are actually being implemented.
“The NSNP was suspended when schools shut down in March, and since that time the DBE has failed to honour the promises it made to reinstate the programme and to ensure learners would not go hungry. In her judgment, Judge Poterrill reflected on the centrality of basic nutrition and the violation of learners’ rights in this regard: “Children are categorically vulnerable, poor hungry children are exceptionally vulnerable. The degree of the violation of the constitutional rights are thus egregious.”
“We welcome the judgment for its recognition that the constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education are inextricably linked, and celebrate this as a victory not only for over nine million learners, but for the millions of households whose food security has been gravely compromised due to the Covid-19 necessitated lockdown. For learners to receive meals at school will ease the strain on caregivers – many of whom have lost their income and are struggling to put food on the table.
“We look forward to examining the plans put forward by the DBE and provincial education departments for the full resumption of the NSNP, as well as the progress reports, to ensure that the rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality are upheld,” Equal Education said.
Equal Education and the two Limpopo school governing bodies were represented by Equal Education Law Centre and Section27, and counsel Geoff Budlender SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and Thabang Pooe.
(Compiled by Carina Koen)