School Uniform prices have already been slashed for some parents after the Competition Commission entered into consent agreements with several schools and major manufacturers in the country.

Competition Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele, speaking at the signing of a watershed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding school uniform prices and procurement in South Africa on Monday morning, said parents had noted school uniform prices dropping after the commission had successfully prosecuted and entered into consent agreements with four schools and two of the country’s largest manufacturers. The settlements required school uniform suppliers to remove exclusive agreements with uniform suppliers and to introduce more generic uniform options.

“These settlements cover thousands of learners and puts choice (and money) back into the hands of consumers,” Bonakele said.

However, Bonakele said the commission did not intend dictating school uniform design, but rather to advocate for principles that ensure that school uniform prices are not unaffordable for parents. 

“We call on School Governing Body Associations to be cognisant of costs when designing their uniform and other learning-related goods and services regimes,” he said.

Competition Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele

Parents battle to pay high school uniform prices

He said that leading up to the prosecution the commission had found that exclusive arrangements between schools and uniform suppliers were pervasive across the country and these made uniforms “unnecessarily expensive and increasingly unaffordable for many South Africans.” 

“In its investigations, the commission also found that several schools were overly prescriptive in their uniform choices, which again limited the choices and bargaining power of parents who were beholden to a small number of suppliers,” he said.

Competition Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele

Bonakele said that to expand its reach to more schools, the Commission had identified School Governing Body Associations as key stakeholders with whom to partner regarding the issue of school uniform prices.

This led to the commission signing several MOUs with the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) and the South African National Association of Specialised Education (SANASE). The Department of Basic Education and Minister Angie Motshekga had also supported the process. 

“Given the vast number of schools across the country, entering into a partnership of this nature with the School Governing Body Associations will enable the commission to communicate effectively to all their member schools,” he said.

Key points of school uniform policy in MOUs

He said the MOUs established cooperation between the parties on the following three broad principles: 

  • Education and Awareness. This entails collaboration on efforts to educate and raise awareness on anti-competitive procurement or sourcing practices by developing and sharing relevant educational materials for schools and participating in each other’s conferences, workshops, or promotions on any other relevant communication platform. 
  • Addressing Anti-competitive Procurement Processes.  This involves promoting pro-competitive practices by ensuring that schools comply with the School Uniform Guidelines that were published by the Department of Education in 2006 and the more recent circular that was published in December 2020. 
  • Monitoring of Compliance. This entails collaboration on efforts to encourage all member schools to make formal commitments through their school policies to practice pro-competitive procurement. For example, the commission has begun a process of engaging schools to sign “An Undertaking on Best Practice Principles of Procurement” as an indication of their commitment to ensure that their procurement processes are as pro-competitive as possible and compliant with the Competition Act. 

“We hope that the partnerships we are entering into with the SGBs will assist in rolling out such initiatives. It is also important that we periodically monitor progress and compliance levels in the advocacy efforts that we are undertaking. As such, the Commission intends to work with the SGBs and the Department in rolling out surveys or interviews every few years,” he said.

READ: School uniform prices ‘could be slashed’ – but will dress codes remain?

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Presh JM Reporter

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