Education ministers must immediately roll out National Schools Nutrition Programme to all 9 million qualifying pupils.

THE Pretoria High Court has ordered the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to resume the school’s nutrition programme to nearly 10 million eligible learners with immediate effect, regardless of whether they are back in class.

The matter was brought before the court by Equal Education, Section-27 and two Limpopo school governing bodies.

The applicants argued that the COVID-19 induced national lockdown did not serve as a basis to deprive pupils of their right to nutrition.

There had been mounting concerns that the lockdown period, and the consequent closure of schools exacerbated hunger among children in the country who received their only daily meals at school.

The school feeding scheme was suspended when schools shut down in March, and since that time the Department of Basic Education has failed to honour the promises it made to reinstate the programme and to ensure learners would not go hungry.

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.

“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,” the parties said in a joint statement. 

“We welcome the judgment for its recognition that the constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education are interdependent, 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.”

The judgment also, in a supervisory interdict, ordered 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.

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.”

(Compiled by Inside Politics staff

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