The judgement was handed down on Tuesday this week after two civil organisations – SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) – had taken the DBE to court citing failure to provide meals to all qualifying learners via the NSNP.
Earlier this month, Health-e News reported how education department officials had not met their contractual obligations in ensuring that the feeding scheme was up to the challenge of providing one nutritious meal to all learners in poorer primary and secondary schools.
It was revealed that 1.5 million learners across the country had been missing out on meals for close to a year during lockdown when learners attended school on alternate days.
Court judgement ‘a victory for learners’ rights’
According to a joint media statement released by the civil organisations monitoring the implementation of the school nutrition yesterday, the court order is a welcome relief to the learners.
“I am happy about this court order because it helps those learners who depend on school meals 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,” said Gracious, a learner member of the EELC in Limpopo.
#SchoolMealsNow! Hope in the fight against child hunger, as court orders government to rethink its plans for the National School Nutrition Programme, to ensure that all learners get school meals during the #COVID19 pandemic! @equal_education @EElawcentre https://t.co/iEnqO1RRmm— SECTION27 (@SECTION27news) July 21, 2021
They have labelled the decision by the Gauteng division of the High Court as a victory for learners’ rights to basic nutrition, education, equality and dignity.
“We are hopeful that the new plans which the DBE and eight of its 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,” read the statement.
SECTION27 and the EELC want the education departments to submit progress reports on the rollout of the NSNP – something they have failed to do since March this year.
“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.”
They went on to add: “The situation became more and more urgent, with qualifying learners not being able to get meals because of barriers such as not having 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.”
The court order agreement contains that the commitments for the existing systems for the delivery of the NSNP be revised as well as reasonable implementation timeframes.
It also states that Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, and the provincials departments formulate and implement revised rollout plans within one month of signing the settlement agreement. This will ensure that all qualifying learners receive a daily meal through the NSNP – whether at school or at home.
Taking COVID-19 into account
These new plans must take the challenges associated with the rollout of the NSNP during COVID-19 into consideration and ensure that every learner receives either a hot meal or food parcel regardless of the school calendar. Schools have either been closed or learners have been forced to slot in with rotational timetables meaning some days they are at home.
Once filed, monthly reports will also have to be submitted detailing the implementation of the revised plans, explaining if the steps taken have succeeded, what further steps will have to be taken and when.
The organisations said they will continue to monitor and analyze the submitted progress reports to ensure all the rights of the learners are upheld. – Health-e News