André de Ruyter, who recently survived an attempt on his life while trying to root out corruption at Eskom, made national headlines this week when he alleged that the state-owned utility is losing R1-billion a month to theft and corruption. That’s R12-billion per year – not to mention the far greater knock-on effects of Eskom on our crippled economy.

Every day, in a different world, 61,000 community volunteers who are paid a basic stipend of just R92 per day, wake up, get dressed and make their way to one of the 21,000 low-income schools across our country. There, supported by funds from the Department of Basic Education, these volunteers prepare and serve a nutritionally balanced meal to 9.5 million children.

They do this every school day of the year.

In case you were wondering, that’s 1.9 billion meals a year.

Families rely heavily on the school feeding scheme to fill their children’s tummies. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

This is South Africa’s National School Nutrition Programme. It costs you and I, the taxpayer, about R8,8-billion a year. It makes me happy to think that for every R4.60 I pay over to SARS at the end of the year, a child gets a meal to help them learn.

This is the kind of tax I want to pay.

South Africa also has a growing early childhood nutrition programme which provides meals, via a vast network of early childhood development (ECD) centres, to the most vulnerable little humans among us: children up to the age of five who are at the most critical developmental stage of their lives.

ECD’s receive R17 per child per day, of which a minimum of R6.80 is set aside for meals: small pieces of fruit and a warm meal on colourful plastic plates placed into eager little hands.

Outgoing Eskom chief André de Ruyter. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Additionally, about 625,000 children up to the age of five benefit from these meals every day.

This costs you and me roughly R1.1-billion per year.

Currently, however, only 9.5% of children are covered under this grant. With what De Ruyter claims is being stolen from Eskom in just one month, we could extend this programme to an additional 600,000 children for an entire year.

Sometimes when numbers get too big they lose all meaning and perspective to those of us still accustomed to working in rands and cents. Cumulatively, the alleged annual loss to corruption within just one of South Africa’s 24 state-owned enterprises costs the country more than all of its school feeding, ECD feeding and emergency food aid programmes combined.

In the plainest terms: the money De Ruyter alleges is being stolen from Eskom is enough to eradicate child hunger in South Africa. Could voters and opposition leaders ask for a better reason to demand a tougher stance on State Capture in the lead-up to the 2024 elections? DM/MC

Dr Luke Metelerkamp is a research associate at the Centre For Sustainability Transitions.

This article was first published on The Daily Maverick website on 28 February 2023.