In Queen­stown, con­cerned teach­ers are up in arms about col­leagues they al­lege are steal­ing food meant for hun­gry school­child­ren

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER paddy.harper@city­

Needy pupils at schools in Queen­stown in the Eastern Cape are go­ing hun­gry in the morn­ings. They are be­ing fed a sin­gle meal of rice and gravy a day be­cause of al­leged cor­rup­tion in school feed­ing pro­grammes. De­spite the launch of a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the abuse by the pro­vin­cial ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment – fol­low­ing com­plaints from whis­tle-blow­ers ear­lier this year – chil­dren are still be­ing un­der­fed at af­fected schools. Risk man­age­ment of­fi­cials ap­pointed by the depart­ment to probe fur­ther, are still to visit the schools.

When City Press vis­ited the town last month, teach­ers spoke at length about their sit­u­a­tion. They told of food be­ing served on old, dented enamel plates in some schools. In oth­ers, there was no cut­lery for chil­dren to eat with.

The teach­ers, from three schools in the Queen­stown dis­trict – St Theresa’s Pri­mary, KwaKo­mani Com­pre­hen­sive School and Mpen­dulo Public Pri­mary School – all asked not to be iden­ti­fied for fear of vic­tim­i­sa­tion.

At St Theresa’s, 18 teach­ers wrote to the depart­ment ask­ing for a probe into the school’s pro­cure­ment prac­tices and the way the nutri­tion scheme was ad­min­is­tered af­ter they were re­fused ac­cess to a se­ries of pro­cure­ment meet­ings by the school gov­ern­ing body. The nutri­tion pro­gramme feeds about 1.6 mil­lion pupils in the province’s 5 300 pri­mary and sec­ondary schools and costs about R110 000 per school, per month.

But teach­ers claimed that not all the money al­lo­cated to their schools was be­ing spent on feed­ing school­child­ren.

“It’s heart­break­ing what we see ev­ery day. We are meant to be pro­vid­ing break­fast and lunch. Most days we can only man­age gravy and pap or rice for lunch, and that’s it,” said a teacher at St Theresa’s Pri­mary.

“In the past, we were able to pro­vide break­fast and lunch, but now we can­not, even though we are told money is be­ing saved from the fund. How can we save money when chil­dren are go­ing hun­gry?”

The teacher said chil­dren were be­ing fed on worn enamel plates that were badly chipped and a hy­giene threat, and there were not enough eat­ing uten­sils avail­able.

By Wed­nes­day, the school had still not re­ceived a visit from the province’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“No­body has re­sponded to our com­plaints,” a sec­ond teacher con­firmed.

Those who over­see the na­tional school nutri­tion pro­gramme at Kwa-Ko­mani have also writ­ten to the depart­ment re­quest­ing a probe into “anom­alies” in­volv­ing the al­leged mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of R150 000 ear­lier this year. Their school prin­ci­pal was sus­pended in con­nec­tion with miss­ing funds, but later re­in­stated.

“We have big prob­lems around the feed­ing scheme and fi­nan­cial man­age­ment,” said a teacher from Kwa-Ko­mani, who asked not to be named. “We be­lieve there is col­lu­sion be­tween the school gov­ern­ing body and the prin­ci­pal over pro­cure­ment. We have raised this count­less times with the unions and the depart­ment, but it is con­tin­u­ing.”

At the be­gin­ning of July, the prin­ci­pal of Mpen­dulo Public Pri­mary was also sus­pended pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties at the school over nutri­tion and the em­ploy­ment of feed­ing staff.

“There’s a prob­lem right through the dis­trict. Peo­ple are over­buy­ing gro­ceries for the school and tak­ing it for them­selves, or pay­ing them­selves through ghost ser­vice providers,” said another con­cerned teacher. “There is a cul­ture of im­punity around it be­cause there is no will do deal with the sit­u­a­tion,” the teacher said.

The prob­lem is not re­stricted to the Queen­stown dis­trict.

In June, the prin­ci­pal and two teach­ers at the Kubusie Com­bined School in Stut­ter­heim were ar­rested for steal­ing food from the scheme at the school. They will ap­pear in court next month.

The three, prin­ci­pal Zuk­ile Nt­lanzi and teach­ers No­makhosazana Ncu­nani and Daniwe Jakuja, are ac­cused of steal­ing gro­ceries from the feed­ing scheme, as well as tablets and com­put­ers from the school. They have been re­leased on bail.

Depart­ment spokesper­son Loyiso Phu­lumani con­firmed this week that its risk man­age­ment unit had probed al­leged cor­rup­tion in its nutri­tion pro­gramme at Queen­stown schools in re­sponse to a se­ries of com­plaints from teach­ers and school gov­ern­ing bod­ies.

While he de­clined to pro­vide more de­tail, quot­ing the “sen­si­tiv­ity” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said the in­quiry was “likely to ex­pand to in­clude other schools”.

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