File picture: Independent Media
Cape Town - Investigations into the R10 billion school uniform industry has shown anti-competitive behaviour between schools and suppliers.

In good news for parents around the country who are digging deep into their pockets to pay for school uniforms, things could change.

Competition Commission spokesperson Sipho Ngwema told the Cape Times the investigation into potential contraventions of the Competitions Act by a number of schools, school uniform manufacturers and suppliers was at an advanced stage. Some of the findings so far included:

Most schools that had entered into exclusive agreements for the supply of school uniforms had not done so through open tenders across all provinces.

Of those schools that had exclusive agreements with school uniform suppliers, most contracts started a number of years ago.

The earliest contract was made in 1974 and some were still entering into such agreements last year.

A third of private schools (about 183 of 573) and 567 of 1723 former Model C (FMC) schools indicated having exclusive agreements with school uniform suppliers.

Of all those private and FMC schools that had exclusive agreements, 87% of the private schools and 53% of the FMC schools had just one such agreement.

Ngwema said the commission had engaged with the Basic Education Department, various schools and school groups, school uniform manufacturers, distributors and other relevant stakeholders to change practices in the school uniform supply business.

“An announcement will be made in this regard within the coming weeks,” Ngwema said.

The process started in January last year when schools, school uniform manufacturers and suppliers complained of anti-competitive behaviour in the school uniform sector.

Parents had complained that they could purchase only school uniforms from specific suppliers.

They consequently paid high prices for school uniform items.

School uniform suppliers complained that some schools had entered into contracts with certain suppliers, giving these suppliers the exclusive right to sell the uniforms of those schools.

A total of 1 595 schools, 287 school governing bodies and 414 parents were part of the investigation.

The commission also did a survey that showed a large number of schools were not familiar with a circular issued by the Department of Basic Education on May 15, 2015, regulating how school uniforms should be purchased.

The circular stated, among other issues, that a school uniform should be as generic as possible, so that it could be purchased from as many suppliers as possible, and that schools should appoint more than one supplier in order to give parents more options.

The commission found “a very significant proportion of the schools in each province were not aware of the circular from the department".

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga hit back, saying that because schools claimed they were not aware of the circular, it did not mean the circular never reached them.

“It must be noted that some of the schools collaborate with some of the suppliers that provide certain goods and services to those schools.

“Why is it that when we run examinations, for example, we issue circulars and all our schools receive them and do as instructed?

"It's mischievous that some people in schools would claim ignorance on this particular matter. Is it because there is money involved?”

The Western Cape Education Department did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.