Black Sash is appalled that thousands of Kwa-Zulu Natal learners have been without food since returning to school for the second term. We stand in solidarity with organisations calling for a probe into the tender allocation and demand immediate accountability and action on the matter.
The Department of Basic Education’s National School Nutrition Programme is the government programme that provides one nutritious meal to all learners in no-fee paying schools. The programme, which is a ringfenced national grant from National Treasury, is aimed at enhancing the learning capacity of learners through the provision of a healthy meal at schools. Where it is implemented, the programme has shown to improve punctuality, regular school attendance, concentration, and the general wellbeing of participating learners.
Last week 5 400 schools in KwaZulu-Natal were without food due to tender irregularities, leaving thousands of learners to starve on their first day back to school after the Easter Holidays. Learners across KwaZulu-Natal had to attend classes hungry after the highly contested school nutrition multi-million-rand tender encountered several challenges. The KZN department of basic education recently appointed a single service provider to handle the school nutrition program estimated at over R2 billion. The challenges include the late or non-delivery of food and in some instances, rotten food sent to schools after the provincial education department introduced a new supplier and system to deliver raw ingredients to schools. In the past, several suppliers based within districts would deliver food directly to schools and school nutrition programmes were meant to provide entrepreneurial opportunities to community members from where the school was situated.
We have a long standing interest in child nutrition. In the Black Sash 2021 Report: Children, Social Assistance and Food Security we highlighted the need for children’s food nutrition to ensure children’s development stages are met and made the following recommendations:
- The Child Support Grant (CSG) should be linked to an objective measure of need, such as the Food Poverty Line.
- A Cash-Plus approach to the implementation of the CSG is needed, where each recipient and caregiver not only receives the cash grant but is formally linked to other essential free basic services such as ECD, free school uniform, free school transport, electricity, adequate housing, health care.
- Comprehensive and systematic food provisioning programmes should be put in place (e.g. soup kitchens, food parcels, onsite-feeding, food vouchers.
- Macro-food policies need to subsidise the food basket of CSG recipients (e.g. old buy-aid or current cash back loyalty programmes).
- Food security should be ensured throughout the life cycle of a child, including maternity protection for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and optimal food support for children at all contact points such as early childhood development, school-based and community-based feeding programmes.
Black Sash recently created a Children’s Activity Book: Happy, Healthy, Me! A book informing learners of their right to a daily nutritious meal and where to report this right if violated. Various civil society groups are questioning how the tender was awarded and Black Sash echoes the call for an immediate probe into how this happened and what will be done to urgently remedy the crisis of starving learners.