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School uniform policy revisited

New suppliers need to enter the market to give parents more choice in price and quality.

No adjustments have been made to the school uniform policy yet but as the investigation evolves, the consensus among suppliers, unions, stakeholders and industry bodies is that there is a need to open the market to new suppliers.

“We are here to try and clamp down on suppliers that are trying to monopolize the market,” said Competition Commisioner Tembinkosi Bonakele, at a recent dialogue session. “We need to open up markets in every sector in South Africa.”

He said more competition creates better businesses and reduces prices.

“Where you have competition, you are likely to improve quality and have prices coming down.”

The Competition Commission began an investigation in 2017 into school uniform prices after receiving complaints from schools and parents regarding the prices of school uniforms from single suppliers. Some schools have entered into contractual agreements with suppliers to supply uniforms, which has resulted in limited access to uniforms and increased prices.

Online consumer affairs platform, SATopShops conducted a comparative uniform price investigation and found that uniform prices between national retailers like Pep and Woolworths was significantly lower compared to exclusive uniform retailers. Click here for SATopShops report. 

Read: CompCom continues with school uniform investigation

Faraaz Mahomed, representing ETEM Schoolwear, said he approves of the call for multiple suppliers to come to the party, because it does improve the overall business ethic.  

“In terms of business you need to work with your competition to collaborate to be successful.”

He added that as a supplier, he is not nervous about the outcomes, because he believes the solutions will benefit them.

“We face the challenge where manufacturers and factories come to us with a 10% increase every year, forcing us to buy more stock for the years to come, so I feel that if they [the CompCom] can come up with a solution it will make all our lives easier in terms of business, and help the growth of youth as well,” he said.  

Recommendations

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, who was present at the recent dialogue session, said the environment is complex as school uniforms represent the identity and culture of the school, and give students a sense of belonging. 

“It makes people comfortable in their company knowing they are equal.”

However, in a country where poverty is prevalent, school uniforms shouldn’t be the reason children cannot go to school.

In 2015, the Department for Basic Education (DBE) sent out a circular to all schools suggesting that uniforms should be as generic as possible. The DBE found that many schools had not received the circular, so the recommendation was not implemented. The dialogue suggested that, aside from being generic, schools can allow for a few exclusive items. 

“There should be no argument or discussion that monopolies are not acceptable,” said Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mohamed Enver Surty.

He said a system should be worked out between current and emerging suppliers on how the industry can work together to provide better access to learners while being sensitive to the economic status of schools and parents alike. 

The investigation into the sector is ongoing.

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