Government’s feeding scheme excuse doesn’t wash, say NGOs

The NGOs say government is attempting to blame parents and learners for their failures, instead of owning up to their own inability to provide a safe environment for the nutrition programmes

Government’s latest excuse for delays in the full-scale resumption of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) – that nervous parents are hamstringing roll-out – is simply not good enough, according to a joint statement issued by Equal Education in conjunction with the Equal Education Law Centre and Section 27, on Wednesday.

“We believe that this unfairly puts the responsibility for the failure to implement the NSNP on learners and families, rather than recognising that the safety measures taken by schools have not been communicated properly and that learners do not all know when and how they can collect school meals,” the statement read.

Some four months after it was put on ice as a result of the global pandemic, the High Court in Pretoria last month ordered Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga “without delay to ensure that the NSNP is implemented in such a manner that it provides a daily meal to all qualifying learners”.

It also issued a supervisory interdict in terms of which Mothsekga’s department had to file detailed plans to resume the NSNP – as well as regular updates on its progress – with the court.

The latest report stated the department was “ready to implement at full scale” but said children were not coming to school to collect their food “due to fears of Covid-19”. It also highlighted the long distances some learners had to travel to school, as an issue.

Equal Education, the Equal Education Law Centre and Section27 said yesterday it lacked “crucial information and plans to address obstacles”.

They also raised additional concerns with the accuracy of the data contained therein and said there were “contradictions” between the data and what communities were reporting.

“These court reports are an opportunity for the education departments to work with school communities and with us to solve problems in the best interests of learners across the country – but inaccurate data and contradictory information in the reports undermine the potential for meaningful engagement,” they said.

They – together with the two schools with which Equal Education went to court to get the NSNP back up and running in the first place – have now written to the minister, asking her to provide her provincial departments with guidelines.

“We have reports that suggest that no meals are being provided at schools in the Umkhanyakhude District of KwaZulu-Natal, while in Limpopo, learners from a number schools have stated that they are unaware their schools are providing meals during this period,” they said in the letter.

They urged the minister to, amongst other things, implement “an effective communication strategy” as well as to make available scholar transport for learners from far-flung areas to school to collect food.

Departmental spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said on Monday the DG would be meeting with the provinces again this week and an updated report was expected to follow.

The full letter from the NGOs can be read below:

Letter to Minister Motshekga NSNP 18 Aug 2020

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Angie Motshekga Equal Education Section27