Tens of thousands of learners have gone without food at school for almost a month because the Department of Education has failed to pay over the latest tranche of school nutrition funding.
For many children, the food they receive from their school nutrition programme is often the only meal they receive each day. When schools are unable to feed them, it places an additional burden on families already buckling under the weight of the cost-of-living crisis we are facing.
There are currently 3056 quintile 1-3 primary schools and an additional 1815 quintile 1-3 secondary schools that have been affected.
As a result, since reopening on 12 April 2023, these schools across the province have been battling to feed children as they have not received the necessary funds.
This has a direct impact on the learning of children at these schools, as hungry children cannot concentrate.
I will be writing to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Education, Mpumelelo Saziwa, to summon Education MEC, Fundile Gade, and his Department before the Education Portfolio Committee to explain why this was allowed to happen.
A vast body of research shows that improved nutrition in schools leads to increased focus and attention, improved test scores, and better classroom behaviour.
The latest excuse given for the delays is an extension given to the Education Information Management Services (EMIS) Directorate to consolidate the Provincial database on school enrollment and operational status of schools and that this is due to schools being late in submitting their information.
As a result, payment of the National School Nutrition Transfer tranche is only expected to reflect in school accounts on 15 May 2023.
However, the DA has it on good authority that capturing of data was delayed due to understaffing in the directorate, as well as there being no measures in place to mitigate loadshedding disruptions.
It is unacceptable that well-paid and well-fed bureaucrats have the luxury of dragging their heels and still going to bed on full stomachs, while our children go to bed hungry. Have they no heart for the parents who have to listen to the cries of hungry children?
The DA will fight for our children to have access to quality, nutritious meals at school. No learner should have to sit through classes hungry!