The urgent case brought by Equal Education (EE) and two Limpopo schools to ensure that meals are provided to all nine million learners who would ordinarily benefit from the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court.
Represented by the Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, EE and the schools are asking the court for a declaratory order that there is a duty on government to ensure that all learners who qualify to benefit from the NSNP must continue to receive these meals, regardless of whether their grades returned to schools on 8 June.
As illustrated by the testimonies of learners and caregivers, the impact of the suspension of the NSNP, has been devastating.
We are also asking the court for a structural order that requires the national and provincial departments to – within five days of the court order – each provide detailed information on implementation to ensure that the commitment to fulfill their constitutional obligation is honored. Every two weeks, detailed progress reports on implementation must be filed with the court.
It is shameful that the national and provincial education departments must be dragged to court to ensure the delivery of school meals. The NSNP is fundamental to supporting the ability of children to learn and crucial to the right to basic education.
The DBE does not dispute that there is funding available and that it is practically possible to safely provide meals to learners who have not yet returned to school. In court papers, the DBE denies that the education departments refused to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners after 8 June, however, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on 1 June 2020 that the NSNP would not be rolled out on 8 June to learners whose classes had not yet resumed.
The latest promise from the DBE, that all provinces would roll-out meals to all qualifying learners from 22 June (last Monday), has been broken. We know that the DBE and provincial education departments have failed to honor their latest commitment because we have spoken to many school communities in various provinces who are still without food. In Limpopo, even some learners in Grade 7 and Grade 12 are not able to receive a meal at all or have been given smaller portions.
The DBE also only made this (broken) promise after the court action was launched. On 19 June, the DBE Director-General Mathanzima Mweli sent a letter (to provinces) that refers to our court action and instructs them to provide meals to all learners from 22 June (the date on which the DBE was due to respond to our application).In the letter, Mweli states: “Any later date will force the department to report to the court on a fortnightly basis”.
EE, EELC, SECTION27, and other education rights organizations attempted to get the NSNP reinstated through direct engagement with the DBE – but our efforts fell on deaf ears.
The Children’s Institute, represented by Centre for Child Law, is involved in the case as a friend of the court (amicus curiae).
For every day that the education departments fail to abide by their commitments and duties to reinstate the NSNP, learners’ rights continue to be violated. It is our hope that the court will take the steps necessary to ensure that they comply with the Constitution.