STERKSPRUIT | In a jiffy, the students cleaned up their books to make room for bowls of steaming filled with a porridge that they eat with full spoonful. In this college of south africa, it is the breakfast time, perhaps the most important of the day.
“Some children here feed only the meals they receive at school,” says Thabang Letsoso, the principal of the college Sitoromo, in the small rural town of Sterkspruit (south), in the province of the Eastern Cape.
The pandemic of sars coronavirus has been closed for more than two months, schools throughout the South Africa private and their 12 million students of course, their fellow students and, for the destitute, their only hot meal of the day.
Throughout the country, those two levels — the equivalent of the terminal and of the 5th — have been reunited with their class in June.
But the strong progress of the disease — the country has passed the bar of 200 000 cases and 3 000 deaths — has forced the authorities to delay the start of the school scheduled for students in the most affected regions.
This is the case in the Eastern Cape, where the next stage of the recovery is now not expected before July 20. For the only college Sitoromo of Sterkspruit, 368 students have been deprived of school for four months.
“Since the month of march, they are at home, where it does absolutely nothing”, regrets the main Letsoso, “and I know that sometimes, some people go to bed hungry”.
Prior to the pandemic, an estimated 9 million students in public schools in south africa were given a free meal a day funded by the government. The containment has been interrupted, without that no other program replaces it.
According to a recent survey conducted by the NGO Equal Education, more than one-third of the students had difficulty in feeding since the closure of the schools.
So it is little to say that Nondabezitha Sikunya rejoiced to see his granddaughter of 12 years to return to college Sitoromo.
“The best part”
“At least when she returns from school, she isn’t hungry,” notes the grandmother, 55 years old, whose meagre salary of the community worker is not enough to boil the kettle family.
Threatened by a legal case of this association, the minister of Education Angie Motshekga has announced the implementation quickly to initiatives for “feed the students who were not able to go back to school”.
The impact of the confinement on the food security of young people is such that many experts believe that it is more serious than the risk of contracting the COVID-19.
“Schools are best for parents who must return to work and worry about what will happen to their children,” judge Mignon McCulloch, the president of the Association of south african paediatric, bearing in mind the limited effects of coronavirus on the younger.
“If you have schools where the children wear masks, wash their hands (…) and keep their distance, at least they can benefit from a little education and food,” she adds.
Provided, however, to be able to re-open the schools safely, that is not the case in the province.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 270 students and 271 teachers or administration have been reported positive with the COVID-19 in some 150 schools in the Eastern Cape, according to statistics made public last week by the authorities.
The college Sitoromo itself has not been spared. Closed two weeks ago following a case of contamination among its staff, it has not reopened as of Monday.
And in conditions complicated by the arson attack which, last year, destroyed a part of the school and forced the school leader to drag to shoehorn 400 students in only 7 classes.
“The COVID-19 has only added to this tragedy,” sighs the professor of economics Letlotlo Motsoeneng, “we don’t know where we are going to set the world and we are very concerned for our health”.