Ricochet News

School uniforms price debate – if you can’t afford it, don’t send your child there

By Jesica Slabbert - Feb 2, 2018
School uniforms price debate – if you can’t afford it, don’t send your child there

January is both a month of great excitement and stress for many parents. It’s the New Year and they get see their kids to school – especially those entering the school system for the first time. But, it is also often a time of worry.

The month of January, besides its traditional association with people being broke after the festive season, is a time for parents to kit up their kids for the new academic year.

To that, a debate has been raging across the country about the price of uniforms and other supplies – and it’s by no accident that the South African school uniform industry is worth an estimated R10 billion.

Allegations have emerged that certain schools have exclusive agreements with certain supplies and often force parents enrolling their kids at those schools to only buy from those supplies.

The monopoly certainly means the supplier is free to determine the cost of their products – whether imported or locally produced.

Some schools are known to have supply shops on their premises and parents are advised that only supplies bought at those shops are allowed.

As a result the Competition Commission launched a probe back in 2016 into the costs of school uniforms after hearing many parents complain and accuse suppliers of fixing prices.

The Commission said that there had been complaints as far back as 2015.

Sipho Ngwema, Communications manager of the Competition Commission, is quoted in the media stating that school principals and School Governing Bodies (SGB) do not always follow government regulations on competitive bidding when choosing suppliers for their schools.

The investigation showed that these exclusive agreements mostly existed at private schools, which are known to be the most expensive schools in the country, compared to public schools based in low income areas.

“We have discovered that more than 30% of schools indeed are still involved in anti-competitive behaviour,” said Ngwema.

The Commission will report on the results of the investigation and the steps that will be taken for those found in the wrong once it has been officially concluded.

However, suppliers are also on record for blaming late shoppers for the complains – arguing that if parents bought their children’s school uniforms ahead of time, they will actually be able to afford it – instead of hunting for uniforms after the festive season.

Port Elizabeth parents share their views

As schools re-opened for the 2018 academic year, RNEWS visited several schools and chatted to parents about their feelings about how much they had to pay to prepare their kids for the New Year.

Our quick survey, revealed that the general consensus among parents is ‘if you cannot afford it – don’t go there!’ – as simple as that.

It would seem parents, who have children enrolled at private schools are prepared to pay any price for school uniforms and other supplies as long as their children are guaranteed quality education and the top facilities available at the schools.

“Well, I send my child to a private school, and I think that it’s a given. The school has its own shop selling the uniforms and I feel that it’s an added service for parents.

“We’ve got an option to buy second-hand clothing as well,” said Port Elizabeth parent, Allison Gerber.

Other parents see school uniforms, whatever the price tag, still as a better option as they help save them money and do not invite competition between classmates to outshine one another.

Parent, Lana Krige, said; “My sons are in a full-time boarding school and they even have to wear school clothes after school.

“I think it’s the best thing because it means I don’t have to buy civvies for every day. There’s no competition over what’s name brand or not.”

Liska van Royen, also a parent, said that she “would rather be paying R120 for a school shirt here than pay R250 for a brand-name shirt that is only going to last them one season”.

Some of the parents we spoke to said that planning ahead and hunting for online bargains, and at local second-hand shops, often means they don’t have to spend a lot when schools re-open.

Van Royen explained; “I don’t feel that uniforms have gotten too expensive. I was actually quite shocked when I bought my child’s school shoes for only R35. I bought them on Black Friday last year.

“The stationary packs my child’s school offers were only R950, and it includes everything they need for the year. It was a worthwhile investment.

“I think if you buy what your child needs long before they start it won’t cost as much.”

Another parent, Lillian Zvenyika, agreed adding; “I think the biggest challenge is buying uniforms, stationary, everything at the same time. Then it turns into a big issue because it’s a huge amount you spend on just one child.

“I managed to buy some of my child’s stuff second-hand on Gumtree. I bought a tennis racket and a blazer for a very good price.”

Still, the debate over the price of school uniforms seems to be not going anywhere soon.