Hard-pressed families could soon be saving on school uniforms following the signing of a memorandum of understanding aimed at stopping schools from forcing parents to buy from exclusive suppliers.
The Competition Commission, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and four associations representing school governing bodies (SGBs) joined forces to strengthen regulation on the procurement of school uniforms and other learning-related goods and services.
The organisations signed the memorandum earlier this week. It culminated after years of investigations and advocacy, following complaints received from parents who were forced to buy school uniforms from exclusively selected suppliers.
Competition Commissioner, Tembinkosi Bonakele said it was important to note that it was not the commission’s intention to dictate school uniform design, but rather to ensure that uniforms were not unaffordable for parents. Bonakele said as such they called on the SGBs to be cognisant of costs when designing their uniform and other learning-related goods and service regimes.
“On the enforcement side, we found that the exclusive arrangements between schools and uniform suppliers were pervasive across the country and made uniforms unnecessarily expensive and increasingly unaffordable for many South Africans,” said Bonakele.
He said in its investigations the commission 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.
DBE spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga said the MoUs were aimed at solidifying working relations between the commission and the SGBs.
National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) general secretary, Matakanya Matakanye said they should address everything that undermined the law in terms of procurement in schools, saying no school would be allowed to have a contract that would go beyond three or five years without the approval of the SGB.
“All historical contracts are over as of last Monday; the NASGB will report those practices to the commission, then the commission must take steps against that activity,” said Matakanye.
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools legal services manager, Juané van der Merwe said the significance of the signing of the memorandum was that it marks a much broader participation by influential stakeholders, and it should contribute to a better South Africa for many people and generations to come.
Van der Merwe said it was with pride that they signed the latest version of the memorandum and committed the federation anew to its terms and conditions.