Almost two million South African learners are still not receiving daily meals, even as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease. Schools are using a rotating timetable to reduce to enforce social distancing rules, but that also means children are missing out on the much-needed National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), say civil society organisations.

In a joint media statement released on Wednesday, Equal Education (EE), the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and Section27 say that they are extremely worried that the nutrition programme is still not reaching learners on the days when they are not at school.

The organisations conducted a survey through their learner members, known as Equalisers. The survey was conducted with 125 learners in September across five provinces. The majority of the participants—96%—are attending school on a rotating timetable. Of these, 71% (69 out of 125 learners) said they did not get a meal on days when they are supposed to stay home.

In an earlier report, the organisations urged the Department of education to provide transportation for children who live far away from school. In the Equalisers survey, 98 out of 125 learners say they had no means to collect meals at schools that are far away. More than half of them knew of other children in their community who also couldn’t reach school to collect meals.

A national issue

Across provinces, the survey paints a picture of children going hungry.

In the Eastern Cape of the six Equalisers who said they are only in the classroom on some days, five do not receive a meal on the days when not at school (83%). While in Gauteng 47 out of 62 Equalisers (75%) are on a rotating timetable. Three quarters of these learners did not receive meals unless they were at school.

And in Limpopo, 13 out of the 15 Equalisers who participated in the survey are only attending school on some days. Of the 13, four (30%) said they do not receive a meal on the days when not at school. Positively, nine of the surveyed Limpopo learners could collect a meal at school on the days when home.

Lockdown interrupts a vital programme

Earlier this year, Judge Sulet Potterill, of the North Gauteng High Court ordered the department of basic education to reinstate NSNP to all deserving learners-whether back at school or not. The Department of Education’s own feedback reports show that they have not been able to reach as many as two million children.

“The education departments must fully and urgently apply themselves to ensuring that the right of learners to basic nutrition is upheld – anything less is unacceptable when the consequences are so devastating for learners and their families,” the three organisations said in a joint statement.

The organizations say they have written to the minister of basic education Angie Motshekga highlighting problems and potential challenges.

“Our letter also asks whether a plan exists to ensure that the NSNP continues to be rolled out, should South Africa experience a second wave of Covid-19 infections,” the organisations said.  – Health-e News