Cape Town - The Competition Tribunal’s ruling that schools can no longer force parents to buy their children’s school uniform at a specific supplier has been hailed a huge victory for poor parents and small businesses.
The tribunal this week said a consent agreement between uniform supplier McCullagh and Bothwell and the Competition Commission formed part of efforts to increase competition, and ensure cheaper prices in the school uniforms market.
The agreement follows the commission’s investigation into several schools and school uniform manufacturers and suppliers for possible contraventions of the Competition Act.
The probe followed numerous complaints from parents and school uniform suppliers in 2017.
Tribunal spokesperson Gillian de Gouveia said: “The commission’s investigation found that exclusive supply agreements of a long duration enable school uniform suppliers to charge customers higher prices and prevent other potential suppliers from entering the market and competing for customers.”
Parents for Equal Education SA founder Vanessa le Roux said: “As a parent and member of a struggling community where unemployment is on the rise, I definitely welcome this decision.
“From a community standpoint, this decision is an opportunity for job creation. Our communities are filled with talented seamstresses who lost their jobs due to factory closures, etc.”
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s spokesperson Kerry Mauchline said school uniforms need to be agreed by the school governing body, taking into account the communities they served.
“Schools must adhere to the requirements of the tribunal in this regard. Preferably school uniforms should be as generic as possible so they are obtainable from many suppliers.”
She said the department had issued a circular to schools for them to comply with the tribunal’s ruling.
The Federation of Associations of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) said exclusive supply agreements for school uniforms had had the unintended consequence of restricting access to education.
Fedsas chief executive Jaco Deacon said: “The decision supports the democratic rights of parents to decide on how to spend their money in the interests of their child’s education. Schools can still celebrate their identity with affordable uniforms available from a range of suppliers.”
ANC provincial education spokesperson Khalid Sayed said: “As the ANC spokesperson on education on the standing committee, I was contacted by numerous parents, particularly from the rural Western Cape where certain schools make agreements with certain suppliers, and uniforms can only be bought there.
“Parents who couldn’t afford these prices were victimised, as were their children who were not allowed to enter the school.
“We want this sort of thinking to be extended to the sale of school stationery,” Sayed said.
Education standing committee member Nospiho Makamba-Botya (EFF) said: “It is also a victory for small companies manufacturing school uniforms because they will also now have an opportunity to compete in this market, which has previously been exclusive to greedy school uniform manufacturing companies who wanted to hold a monopoly in the industry.”
Black Business Chamber (BBC) secretary-general Mntuwekhaya “Khaya” Cishe said: “We want to encourage the tribunal to go further as there are many other sectors where monopolies run things, and these need to be broken up as they are making it hard for small businesses to participate in other industries.”
Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, Jacques Moolman, said: “Cosy relationships between school management and education departments that favoured some suppliers for reasons sometimes other than quality and price, had to end.
“Whether or not one agrees with mandatory school uniforms, there is no doubt that for some parents they have become a scarcely affordable drain on household income.”
ACDP MPL Ferlon Christians said: “I believe that this is the right decision and that monopolies must be removed so that parents can dress their children in the correct uniform, but at a price that suits their budget.”