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By Lunga Simelane

Journalist


Back to school: Parents feel the pinch as price of uniforms, stationery too high

ConCourt ruling that exclusive deals with suppliers must be cancelled violated.


Back to school is also back to poverty for many cash-strapped parents as they battle to clothe pupils in preparation for the school year ahead. With schools set to reopen this week amid ever-rising costs, many parents have raised complaints over the high prices of uniforms and stationery, and being forced to buy from school-designated suppliers. Ntombi Mamba, a parent from Soweto, said she faced difficulties regarding the purchase of uniforms and stationery. She recently lost her husband and is unemployed. “I am trying to make ends meet, which is hard, and my daughter is doing her matric this year…

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Back to school is also back to poverty for many cash-strapped parents as they battle to clothe pupils in preparation for the school year ahead.

With schools set to reopen this week amid ever-rising costs, many parents have raised complaints over the high prices of uniforms and stationery, and being forced to buy from school-designated suppliers.

Ntombi Mamba, a parent from Soweto, said she faced difficulties regarding the purchase of uniforms and stationery. She recently lost her husband and is unemployed.

“I am trying to make ends meet, which is hard, and my daughter is doing her matric this year in a public school.

“The school’s uniform has exclusive colours which are not available just anywhere. So, we have to get the uniform at a specific place. You might even call those shops the ‘boutique of school uniforms’,” she said.

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“It would have been better if it was only the jersey and blazers that are different, but even the shirts, shoes and socks. You cannot get them at known and reasonable stores.

“It has become more difficult, as we are not given any choice of stores. I feel the government needs to intervene by setting a standard fee to pay for uniforms, regardless of where you buy them.”

Mamba said it was the “same noise” at the beginning of every year and nothing was changing.

Six-year-old Matipa Arendse poses for a photograph with her new school uniform at Burgers Broers in Northcliff, 11 January 2024, ahead of the re-opening of schools. Picture: Michel Bega/The Citizen
Six-year-old Matipa Arendse poses for a photograph with her new school uniform at Burgers Broers in Northcliff, 11 January 2024, ahead of the re-opening of schools. Picture: Michel Bega/The Citizen

General secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies (Nasgb) Matakanye Matakanya said schools needed to do away with “evergreen contracts” between schools and specific suppliers.

Matakanya said the NASGB had partnered with the Competition Commission to assist and investigate why it was still an issue. In 2021, the Competition Commission reached an agreement that schools would cancel exclusivity deals with suppliers. However, some were still violating the agreement.

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The commission had received more than 220 complaints already.

“We want parents to go buy a uniform wherever they can. They must be able to shop around and compare prices,” Matakanya said. “We know what they do in these schools and who is influencing them. I do not think it’s SGBs (school governing bodies) influencing these contracts. So, we do not want to see these evergreen contracts in schools anymore.”

Matakanya said parents needed to start working more with SGBs regarding policies.

“From the constitution, section 29, it states every child in the country has the right to basic education. And the other piece of legislation is the South African Schools Act, that says when you admit children, avoid discriminating them,” he said.

“We advise our SGBs that when they craft a code of dress policy, it must not be through a uniform that this child should not access education [or] feel inferior.

“When this child does not have uniform and the other has, you’ll find this child now asking him or herself how and why do they differ from other children. This affects his or her education. These are things we need to avoid.”

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Another parent, Constance Zulu from Buhle Park, said while this was a very exciting time of the year for most parents, as pupils would be starting school for the first time or a new grade, it was also frustrating when it came to the funding.

“It becomes a competition among the [stationery shops and supermarkets] when it comes to the back-to-school season. They raise their prices, knowing it’s in popular demand for the school children to have books and pens,” Zulu said.

On social media platform X, Aaron Masilela said “a ball pen increased from R7 to R23 each – no, stationery is too expensive. Imagine your child coming home and say they lost a pen every day.”

@Xoli said “my nephew’s stationery cost R4 000 [and] that is before books, uniform, transport, school fees, lunch boxes, pocket money. And he will be starting Grade R at a public school. Schooling is just expensive”.

The Human Rights Commission has recommended a baseline assessment by the department of basic education to determine a cap on uniform costs, considering the country’s current socioeconomic circumstances.

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