Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The 7.50am bell signals the first meal of the day for many pupils at Emfundisweni Primary School in Alexandra, northern Johannesburg.

Nearly 10 percent of the 749 pupils at the school are orphans and rely on its feeding scheme for at least two meals a day, said principal Thembakazi Giyama.

Hot soft porridge is served before the start of lessons at 8am, and an early lunch of either pap, samp or rice and vegetables at 11am.

"The soft porridge is for those who do not eat breakfast at home. Lunch is for everyone," Giyama said.

"We also encourage children to bring lunch boxes to school to take home leftover food because some return to homes where there is nothing to eat."

The feeding scheme was introduced in 1994. The school gets food from the government every month. It is cooked by volunteers, often pupils' parents, in a small kitchen at the school.

Giyama said the scheme encouraged children to attend school.

"Few of their parents work and they depend on grants. Before the feeding scheme there was a lot of absenteeism," Giyama said.

Unemployed 56-year-old grandmother Dlozi Ngobeni said she had resorted to begging to provide for her 11-year-old grandson Gift.

She is happy that her grandson is fed at school.

"With the little that I earn I have to ensure we don't go to bed hungry, even if it means eating pap and chicken innards," Ngobeni said. Emfundisweni Primary was declared a no-fee school in 2006 and all pupils are exempted. Giyama said though fees of R70 a year might seem paltry, poor parents struggled to pay.

She said the declaration of no-fee schools in the area had relieved many unemployed parents of an intolerable burden.

Many of her charges were orphans and others came from single-parent families.

"I've also noticed children from rural areas who come to the city to live with relatives."