SA parents seek relief from mandatory school uniform costs

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Parents have approached the Competition Commission to curb the high prices of uniforms due to being forced to buy from specific suppliers.

In a bid to curb the exorbitant prices of mandatory school uniforms, cash-strapped parents are once again turning to the Competition Commission for assistance.

With the new school year starting on 17 January, families grapple with the financial burden of mandatory uniforms, prompting a flood of complaints to the commission.

Mandatory school uniforms: Parents turn to Competition Commission

News24 reported that since January 2023, the commission has received more than 220 complaints from parents who allege schools are compelling them to purchase uniforms from specific suppliers at exorbitant prices.

The issue has prompted a response from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which recommended a baseline assessment by the Department of Basic Education to determine a cap on basic school uniform costs, considering the country’s current socio-economic circumstances.

Commission spokesperson Siyabulela Makunga highlighted the imbalance of power between schools and uniform suppliers, emphasising that the commission aims to address exclusive agreements that limit parental choices and contribute to high uniform costs.

ALSO READ: ‘There’s just so much to buy’ – Parents complain about prices of school uniforms 

Removing exclusivity clauses

In a positive move, the Competition Tribunal confirmed a consent agreement in November 2021, urging school uniform supplier McCullagh & Bothwell to abandon exclusive supply agreements.

Removing exclusivity clauses has allowed new small and medium enterprises to enter the market, providing parents with more choices and potentially lowering uniform prices.

The SAHRC also stressed that certain costly items, such as blazers, should not be compulsory.

Education officials and organisations, including the Association of Public Boys’ Schools of South Africa, the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), and the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas), support the call for multiple suppliers and caution against exclusive agreements. 

ALSO READ: School uniforms battle continues

‘Explore affordable options’ for uniforms’

These bodies emphasised the importance of schools considering parents’ financial constraints and exploring affordable options.

Despite acknowledging the rise in uniform costs, McCullagh & Bothwell director Walker David, however, underscored the challenging dynamics of the free-market system and parents’ willingness to invest in their children’s education.

As parents face the back-to-school rush, the call for regulatory intervention and affordable options in the school uniform market resonates strongly with South African families due to the sky-rocketing cos-of-living crisis.


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