#LockdownSA: Prioritise feeding hungry learners

Discussions about the schooling program for the rest of the year are still underway, but the majority of children who rely on the National School Nutrition Programme remain without access to their meals.

Equal Education (EE) together with education, children’s advocacy and social justice organisations such the Children’s Institute, Section27 and the Centre for Child Law have written a letter to the Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, stating that that there is a pressing need to ensure that learners have continued access to critical nutrition provisioning, through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

The NSNP provides meals to nine million children across the country — and for many children, the single meal the programme provides is their only square meal a day. According to a 2018 Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security working paper, the programme has reached 9-million children in over 20 000 schools every school day. Although no rigorous assessment of the NSNP has been undertaken, the researchers noted that the programme has the ability to increase children’s educational performance, and has the potential to contribute to household food security.

Protect vulnerable children’s nutrition

But since the national lockdown’s instatement, the NSNP has come to a standstill and children on the programme haven’t been able to access their meals.

Speaking to Health-e News, Leanne Jansen-Thomas of EE says that they understand that the Food and Nutrition Security Coordination Committee (FNSCC) is leading efforts to coordinate various departments, including the Department of Social Development (DSD), the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

“Currently, the FNSCC has sought to introduce a hunger mitigation strategy for children, including children benefiting from the NSNP. Interventions are reported to include the distribution of food parcels to beneficiaries through local and provincial distribution centres with implementing agents having been appointed for each province,” Jansen-Thomas says.

However, according to EE and other concerned organisations, there are issues with this method. The criteria of the selected distribution points, as well as the safety and accessibility of distribution points are not clear.

“But we are concerned that distribution centres may not be adequately accessible to those in need, particularly in rural areas. It is also unclear what safety measures are being put in place to protect children who may be in a position of having to collect food parcels themselves,” she tells Health-e News.

National implementation necessary

She further says that the proposal put forward by the Gauteng provincial government last month — that food packages be distributed to learners through schools — should be implemented nationally.

“This position has recently been implemented by the Western Cape Education Department,” the open letter to Minister Motshekga reads.

According to a statement released by the Westen Cape provincial government, schools started feeding children for two days a week, from 6 April. However, other schools might wish to feed daily, and that is the decision made by schools on an individual basis. The statement further says that learners will not sit down at schools and eat, but will collect the food in containers brought from home.

“We are urging the national DBE and provincial education departments to implement this recommendation at a national level, utilising existing NSNP funding and coordinating with DSD’s food parcel and social relief of distress programmes to ensure all NSNP beneficiaries are fed,” Jansen-Thomas tells Health-e News.

In the open letter, some of the organisations’ recommendations include:

  • schools be deemed essential service facilities for purposes of serving as collection points;
  • social distancing measures be put in place including, for example, staggering collection dates and times and limiting numbers of collections per day;
  • scholar transport buses be used to facilitate mobile collection and delivery; and
  • where school-based feeding programmes are not possible, the use of voucher systems should be considered, provided that vouchers are redeemable at all local outlets (including spaza shops). — Health-e News

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.  

#LockdownSA: Increased child support grant is a ‘massive relief

Organisations advocating for the adequate nutritional needs of children have cautiously welcomed the move from President Cyril Ramaphosa to increase social and economic relief for the next six months.

Community advocacy group Amandla.mobi is calling for an increase in the child support grant, and are pleased with the President’s announcement — bolstering social support and economic relief in the country. Amandla.mobi has advocated for an increase since the beginning of the national lockdown, and believes that it’s a step in the right direction.

“As pointed out by many experts — grants are the simplest, quickest and most effective way to get cash to millions of poor households that will otherwise face food insecurity and debilitating poverty,” says Koketso Moeti, executive director of the organisation.

The campaign involved several role players such as the Children’s Institute, economists and various other stakeholders — and was informed by a survey, which helped draft up a community response plan. Moeti says that the top priority which emerged was the need to get some form of income to people.

“It was run in five languages, to ensure that those most impacted participate. And that’s where over 80% of the campaign supporters came from and the demands and signatures were sent to the President, as well as people undertaking online tactics and sharing reasons why they support the campaign,” she says.

Leanne Jansen-Thomas from Equal Education (EE) says that the increase to the child support grant came about due to pressure on the government from civil society organisations.

“The increase on the child support grant is a massive relief; and it is owing to sustained pressure on the government from civil society organisations, coalitions and academics. The child support grant must however pay for a myriad of needs for children — not just food,” says Jansen-Thomas.

Food parcels need strict monitoring

President Ramaphosa also announced that 250 000 food parcels would be distributed across the country over the next two weeks. Both Amandla.mobi and Equal Education want these to be properly managed to ensure that they reach deserving households; more especially that it reaches children.

“It will be important to monitor all relief measures undertaken; even beyond food parcels, to ensure that they get to the right beneficiaries and serve the purpose intended. As we know, procurement is where a lot of corruption happens. Over and above that, transparency will be essential,” says Moeti.

EE is currently engaging with the Basic Education Department and Parliament’s Committee on Basic Education and Social Development, in order to “access accurate information on how many households are receiving food parcels and how the existing national school nutrition programme budget is being used,” says Jansen-Thomas. This information is then significant, because it helps the organisation make an assessment about the food security of all children.

Food security is intersectional

There’s a coalition of organisations calling for the Department of Basic Education and Social Development to ensure that that over 9 million children who ordinarily benefit from the school nutrition programme continue to receive food relief, if they are not benefiting from the food relief from the department, or SASSA.

The organisation is also calling for the following to be implemented:

  • nutritious food to be subsidised;
  • water provision in communities without access to be prioritised;
  • decent and safe living conditions for the homeless;
  • a plan of care for prisoners;
  • respecting the moratorium on evictions;
  • a proper education plan that leaves no child behind; and,
  • price control of basic food items

— Health-e News

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.  

CoronavirusSA: Food parcel drive

It is vulnerable groups in society such as the elderly, poor, and unemployed who are most affected when global pandemics such as Covid-19 take place. But various sectors in the country have come together to lessen the impact.

With South Africa’s high unemployment rate, most people in the country can’t afford to buy essentials like basic food items and hand sanitiser in order to keep healthy and prevent the spread of the virus.

Poverty-stricken community members in the North West tell Health-e News that they appreciate government efforts aimed at ensuring their wellbeing during these difficult times.

Mary Mosala (45) from Manokwana Village near Taung shares a one-bedroom shack with four other family members. They depend mostly on a social grant to buy food. She recently received a visit from the North West Department of Social Development and was handed a food parcel.

“We are really grateful for the visit from government and the food we have received. I normally go out and look for piece jobs to feed my family but now because we have been told to stay in our homes to prevent the spread of the virus [so] I am forced to stay indoors. I am really happy to have received this food parcel and it will keep us from going hungry,” says Mosala.

Elisa Mooki (27) from Jouberton near Klerksdorp lives with her younger sister and two children in a RDP house. They also depend on social grants to buy food. Mooki has welcomed the food parcel which government handed over to her family.

“Ever since our parents passed away, life has been difficult and I have had to look after my younger sister. I am currently unemployed and we depend on social grants in order to survive. This food parcel will add to our grocery because our food gets finished quickly because the children are no longer eating at school – they also have to stay [at] home due to this lockdown.

“I appreciate the efforts taken by government and I hope that they will reach more households which are affected by poverty across the country,” says Mooki.

Spokesperson for the North West Department of Social Development, Petrus Siko tells Health-e News that they are doing their best to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected during these difficult times.

“[Thus] far we have distributed nearly 2 000 food parcels across the province. We also enjoy support from the private sector and NGOs. The department intends on going to all four districts in the province to identify and hand out food parcels to those who match our qualification criteria.”

Siko adds that the department has also set up shelters for the homeless in Mahikeng, Rustenburg and Ventersdorp where they can stay during the lockdown period.

“We have set up shelters for the for the homeless at the Ben Marais Hall in Rustenburg, JB Marks Treatment Centre in Ventersdorp and the Mahikeng Secure Centre in the capital. Here we are able to feed, clothe and screen people who were living on the street before the lockdown period. Nursing staff are always available at these centres to provide the necessary health care around the clock,” says Siko

The department urges people across the province who do not have a stable income to contact a social worker who is designated to their ward or local councillor in order to receive food parcels from government. – Health-e News

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.