On 12th June, Trust grantees SECTION27 and Equal Education launched an urgent court application against the South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial Education Departments. The Department of Basic Education had failed to roll out the National Schools Nutrition Programme to all learners, an initiative that would normally provide meals to over nine million learners every day. The initiative was paused on 18th March due to the nationwide lockdown, intensifying the effects of the pandemic for many families whose households experienced hardship.
Following the pause of the programme, the DBE announced on 1st June that they did not have capacity to roll out “new” programmes, despite the National Schools Nutrition Programme having run for 26 years. Equal Education and the two Limpopo school governing bodies, represented by Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, and counsel Geoff Budlender SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC and Thabang Pooe, sought a declaratory order that there is a duty on government to ensure all qualifying learners are entitled to receive a daily meal, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes at school in the case Equal Education and others v. the Department of Basic Education and others. On 17th July 2020, Equal Education, SECTION27 and Equal Education Law Centre won their case.
The court granted a declaratory and a supervisory order, in an important piece of jurisprudence, requiring the DBE to roll out the National Schools Nutrition Programme to all eligible children without delay, regardless of whether learners have returned to school. The declaratory order reiterates the DBE’s constitutional and statutory duty to fulfil learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition and education. The supervisory interdict orders the Basic Education Minister to file detailed plans and programmes for the resumption of the National Schools Nutrition Programme to all eligible learners within 10 days. The Minister will then be required to file updates with the court every 15 days to prove the plans are being implemented. In delivering the judgment, Judge Poterril reflected that the NSNP is “literally a lifesaving programme for the poorest of the poor child by providing them with at least one nutritious meal a day while being educated. A programme that must be saluted”.
SECTION27 responded to the judgment: “We celebrate this judgment as a victory which reaffirms learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition and basic education, and which will go a long way in easing the hunger and strain experienced by families across the country during the period of lockdown.”
Equal Education, Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27 will now be undertaking the crucial work of public education on the judgment, and monitoring its implementation on the ground.
Read more about the judgement here.
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