Food For Thought. Alleged feeding scheme corruption leaves pupils starving in South Africa

Written by Leticia Cox

Tender irregularities and iniquity between the provincial department and food suppliers have led to food not being supplied to 5,400 schools in KwaZulu-Natal province.

In South Africa, the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) is a government programme that provides one to two nutritious meals to all students in poorer primary and secondary schools.

NSNP aims to provide better quality education by enhancing children’s active learning capacity, alleviating short-term hunger, and incentivising them to attend school. The food scheme was specially created to feed children in remote areas. Pupils receive food on all school days. They usually get breakfast around 10 am and the main meal later in the day before school ends —-for many South African children, the meal they get from the NSNP is their only daily meal.

Recently, the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Education awarded a multi-million tender to a single supplier to deliver to all the schools in KZN.

In the past, the department used to work with several suppliers to provide to different districts across the province – using local suppliers from local businesses to source the food.

Previous suppliers, school staff and community members need to understand why the department would ditch a working system and award a single service provider a million-dollar tender.

Children were eating lunch at school. from:

“Now, one individual has been given the tender, but no food has been delivered to the schools, and children are starving,” said Richard Malanga, a community member from Nongoma. Thousands of schools and millions of children across the province rely on the nutrition program.

How can one individual know how to provide meals to all schools, some of which are in very remote areas and local transport service is need it? It makes no sense.”

Where is our meal?

“Children are crying,” said Malanga. “Teachers are frustrated and can’t feed the children or force them to come to school.”

“Pupils can’t be expected to learn on an empty stomach,” said a teacher from Lady Smith who did not want to be named. “Government wants good grades, but the current situation pushes back the framework of the school syllabus. It also puts pressure on parents already under enormous financial pressure while providing for their families,” the teacher said.

Earlier this year, district officials told some school principals there would be a change in the NSNP, but further details still needed to be given.

Last week, the pupils came home with letters informing parents that there would not be any food at the schools. Parents, teachers and other community members are worried about the situation and are struggling to find a solution, while the Department of Education has yet to react.
KZN Education MEC Mbali Frazer suggested that the leading supplier in charge had some logistic issues and challenges.

“This unfortunate situation currently faced by our schools, communities and service providers is deeply regretted”, said Frazer.

“The department and the stakeholders have been working around the clock to solve these challenges. I wish to reaffirm our commitment towards providing all 2.3 million pupils with a nutritious meal as expected.”

The National Department of Education is responsible for ensuring that funds are secured from National Treasury. The NSNP is funded by a conditional grant, meaning that the R7 billion budget is specially reserved for providing school meals.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube has commissioned a full-scale investigation into the tender process followed for the scheme.

Opposition political parties and civic forums have requested clarification on what led the Department of Education to strip other suppliers of their duties and award 2.1 billion Rands to a single supplier/individual.

*This is a developing story.

*The right to sufficient food is found in section 27(1)(b) of the South African Constitution. The National School Nutrition Programme is critical for furthering learners’ constitutional rights to essential nutrition. Children have the additional right to essential nutrition in Section 28(1)(c) and primary education (Section 29(1)(a) of the Constitution).

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