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Motshekga urged to reopen school food programme

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Civil society groups pressure Basic Education Minister to restore feeding scheme during lockdown

PRESSURE is mounting on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to continue with the school nutrition programme during the national lockdown, despite reports that she previously rejected the idea.

In a letter to Motshekga, five civil society organisations tabled their proposals on the use of funding for the school nutrition programme. 

The call by Equal Education, the Equal Education Law Centre, Section 27, the Centre for Child Law and the Children’s Institute comes after the Western Cape Department of Education kicked off its programme last week despite criticism from the teacher’s union Sadtu and threats of litigation from another political party.

The provincial department, which described its initiative as a humanitarian mission, has said it has put measures in place to ensure social distance was maintained, including the safety of pupils and teachers.

In their letter to Motshekga, the organisations said there was a pressing need to ensure that pupils have continued access to critical nutrition provision in the wake of the extension of the national lockdown.

“Nine million children ordinarily benefit from the national school nutrition programme. For many of these pupils, the meal received at school is often the only meal received for the day.”

The organisations noted with concern that Motshekga’s reported response to calls for provision of meals during the lockdown has been “disappointing”.

They also said the Food and Nutrition Security Co-ordination Committee has sought to introduce a child hunger mitigation strategy.

Their interventions reportedly included food parcels to be distributed via implementing agents amid questions in selection criteria of the distribution points. “We are concerned that distribution centres may not be adequately accessible to those in need, particularly in rural areas.”

They also questioned the reported stance of the department that it had already disbursed funds to provinces and there was no money left for food distribution.

“The Basic Education Department has yet to fully explain how the committed funds, which are dedicated to school nutrition provision, will be utilised during this period,” read the letter.

“We encourage the department to urgently reconsider its approach to the provision of school nutrition programmes during school closure.”

They recommend that schools should be used as either collection points for food parcels or pick-up-and-go meals for national school nutrition programme beneficiaries”.

The letter went further to say: “The continuation of school nutrition provision for pupils is critical and urgent and we urge you to ensure that children’s needs are prioritised and protected in government’s plans.” 

They noted that the Gauteng province was the first to propose the use of schools as collection points for parcels last month, only to be implemented by the Western Cape last week.

The organisations also recommended that schools be deemed essential service facilities for purposes of serving as collection points. 

They also said social distancing measures should be put in place including, for example, staggering collection dates and times and limiting numbers of collections per day, among other proposals.

Efforts to obtain comment from the  department at the time of going to were unsuccessful. Calls and WhatsApp messages sent to spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga went unanswered.