THERE is a national outcry from parents over a sudden sharp spike in the prices of school uniforms of more than 200 percent ahead of the start of the school calendar year on January 8, sparking fears of collusion among retailers seeking to profiteer from an unregulated market.
Parents say the prevailing economic circumstances and the pricey uniforms have made educational expenses unbearable.
Coupled with the inflated prices of uniforms is the cost of living in general, high school fees and other necessities.
School shoes in a number of retail outlets now cost $60, up from $20, a satchel $62 (from $21), a shirt and short $65 (from $20), a dress $45 (from $15), a blazer is going for $150 (from $50), a skirt and blouse $80 (from $30), a hat $30 (from $11), socks $6 (from $2) and tie $18 (from $9).
A full set of uniforms for a Grade One pupil costs an average of $135 in city shops.
At one popular retail shop in Harare, it was found that a lab coat for students doing science practicals sells for $50 and khaki shorts for boys $45.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima last week said parents should be allowed to get the best quotation on the market instead of being forced to buy uniforms at the school.
This followed concerns by parents who said schools were working with retailers to inflate prices for their benefit.
Schools reportedly claimed allowing parents to get uniforms from the cheapest retailers would compromise quality and bring different shades of colour.
Prof Mavima said schools were expected to practise good governance, be transparent and corruption-free in their management.
A survey by our sister publication, The Chronicle in Bulawayo on Thursday revealed that most retailers had increased prices of uniforms and stationery and that parents were struggling to cope.
“As parents we are very worried about these price increases. My child is going for Form One and I have already spent close to $400 on uniforms alone. Now I have to borrow money from someone to buy stationery and pay school fees,” said Mrs Sibonokuhle Nkala from Cowdray Park.
“The same uniforms would have cost me $100 if prices had remained at last year’s levels. I don’t know if the retailers are justified to sell uniforms at such exorbitant prices but this is frustrating,” she said.
“I spent the whole day trying to compare prices around town but they are just the same,” she said, raising suspicion of collusion by retailers leading to unjustified price-fixing.
Scores of parents said they were being forced to buy some of their requirements from street vendors whose prices were, in some instances, half of what registered retailers were charging.
“I was very excited that my first child is going for ECD but I was very disappointed when I got to these shops. I had to spend more than $140 on one set of uniform, which should cost $50. I think it’s high time Government acted on these price hikes because they’re unjustified,” said Ms Rutendo Masamba from Emganwini.
“It’s depressing to think that while the prices of uniforms have gone up by more than 200 percent, our salaries are still the same as last year.
“My salary was only enough to buy uniforms and stationery for my child who is going to Form One,” she said.
Some parents said they were forced to buy from street vendors who sell products like stockings and exercise books at lower prices. Others said were relying on unregistered tailors who sell school uniforms at reasonable prices.
However, schools appear to insist on uniforms from selected retailers and refuse to admit pupils who buy uniforms from elsewhere, raising suspicion of collusion and profiteering.