Nutritional needs of millions of children at stake

Eight MECs failed to file reports as ordered by the courts on their plans to implement the National Schools Nutrition Programme in their provinces.

The national minister filed her report but NGO Equal Education is unhappy with her plans.

Nine million learners qualify for the programme which abruptly stopped in March when schools closed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Eight provincial ministers of education (MECs) have missed the deadline to report to the High Court on their plans and their progress in reintroducing the schools feeding scheme.

Judge Sulet Potterill had ordered the ministers to immediately roll out the programme to all nine million qualifying learners, irrespective of whether they were back in their classrooms. (The Western Cape was excluded as it had not suspended the programme.)

The court gave the MECs ten days to report back with a plan and programme showing what steps have been taken to get at least one nutritious meal to the learners, and update the court on progress every 15 days after that, until the court declared that it was no longer necessary.

None of the eight provincial ministers submitted reports to the court.

National Minister for Basic Education Angie Mtoshekga filed her report on Friday, as instructed by the North Gauteng High Court on 17 June, but Equal Education (EE) was critical of it.

“We are disappointed in the document filed by Minister Motshekga, which we don’t consider to adequately represent any forward planning,” said EE head of communications Leanne Jansen-Thomas. “We are seeking the advice of our legal counsel on next steps. We’re unable to say any more than that at this stage.”

The purpose of the reports was to enable the court to monitor and evaluate the plans for the implementation of the National Schools Nutrition Programme in each province.

In her report, Motshekga said the programme was funded through a conditional grant. She had therefore consulted with Treasury to amend its conditions to accommodate the situation under the Covid-19 pandemic so that meals could be provided to learners not at school.

“Funds from the grant can now be spent on providing meals to learners in far-flung areas through alternative means at a minimum of R170 nutritious food items per learner per month,” she said.

The minister said she had also begun the process of reviewing the business plan to allow the use of savings, generated in April and May, when schools were closed and meals were not provided.