Hunger looms in South Africa as COVID-19 lockdown hinders free school meals

Media reports said a potential hunger crisis looms but officials say palliative measures will still be put in place.

For seven weeks now, schools in South Africa have stayed shut to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The closure of schools also halted a national feeding programme providing meals to at least nine million extremely poor school children, helping them get through the classroom day to get an education.

“We have kids here at school who faint (from hunger),” said Shireen Valentyn, 41, a volunteer at Hoofweg primary school in the impoverished Blue Downs community in Cape Town.

According to a news report, a potential hunger crisis looms but officials say palliative measures will be put in place to at least feed the children.

“The school is closed for classes but is providing children and their guardians meals as part of an emergency scheme, unique to South Africa’s Western Cape Province” officials said.

“In our kids there is a lot of hunger,” Valentyn said. In the morning they queue in the cold for porridge. Later separate lines of children and adults wait with plastic lunch boxes for a midday meal of cooked butternut and tinned fish briyani.

The economic hardship has been severe since President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered most citizens to stay indoors and shuttered all but essential businesses in late March.

“There is certainly a hunger crisis and from the perspective of children, I would say that this is a severe implication for their ability to survive,” said Nurina Ally, executive director at Equal Education Law Centre (EELC).

“I am also worried about the virus but there is nothing we can do because we can’t stay hungry,” said mother-of-two Thabisa Nete, 33, as she got a hot meal at Vuyani primary school in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township.

South Africa reopened some sectors of the economy on May 1 as the government sought to kickstart a stuttering economy.

Schools are expected to partially reopen later this month, and students are to resume back in class from June 1.

There is however no certainty over when the national school nutrition programme will resume fully, piling pressure on poor families struggling to make ends meet.

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