Pupils at a Limpopo school have not had school meals for over two months, rights organisation Section27 said on Monday.
The organisation filed an urgent application in the high court in Pretoria on Friday asking that the meals be delivered to Tshinavhe Secondary School in the Vhembe district.
"These pupils come from families that are very poor and are used to getting food from the government," secretary of the school's governing body Tondani Mudau told the Mail & Guardian.
"We wrote letters to the department but we never got any response."
Section27 also wanted the court to declare the lack of meals a "violation of the rights of learners to basic education, basic nutrition, equality, dignity and public administration in line with section 195 of the Constitution".
The national and provincial departments of education have until the end of Monday to respond, Section27 said.
'No food was delivered'
The school's governing body and the principal say they have made numerous efforts to alert government authorities to the problem but received no response.
Section27 then wrote to the district director, it said, but "while responses were received from the district director and acting head of department of the Limpopo department of education indicating that food would be delivered by 14 October, no food was delivered".
Through the government's national school nutrition programme, all pupils in the poorest 60% of schools get one free meal a day but the 342 pupils at Tshinavhe have been left hungry, Section27 said.
"Receiving a meal at school enables learners to concentrate at school and to learn. Without it many learners at Tshinavhe Secondary School, including grade 12 learners, are currently writing exams on empty stomachs," the organisation said.
Phuthi Seloba, spokesperson for the Limpopo education department, told the M&G pupils would start to get meals again on Friday, and there was no need for court action,
"We first heard about this problem two months ago and we discovered that the service provider had a capacity problem," Seloba said.
"But you can't just terminate someone's contract; you have to make sure you are administratively safe, which is what we did and now the problem has been resolved."
Seloba denied that the school and Section27 had not received an adequate response from the department.
"There is nobody who writes to our department and does not get a response. We have been working with the SGB [school governing body] structure … and have even updated Section27," he said.
He said there was no value in responding to Section27's allegations because "no matter how much we talk to them … they go around spreading lies".
"Section27 raises money on people's pain. It goes around masquerading … but it is serving a political agenda. They go around wanting to be seen to be doing something."
When asked what the department had done to provide pupils with meals while it finalised plans for a new service provider, Seloba insisted it tried to "get the pupils meals in the meantime" but would not provide any more details.
He said the department had not seen the court papers yet but would respond to them by the end of the day.