By Harmony Agere
Most schools are still forcing parents to buy uniforms from their preferred suppliers despite Government’s directive to end the practice, it has emerged.
Those who have heeded the call are reportedly accepting uniforms purchased from specific suppliers only.
The development, which comes on the eve of schools opening, has raised fears of collusion and corruption between uniform suppliers and headmasters.
As such, school uniform prices are reported to have gone up by as much as 300 percent.
“We heard that Government spoke against it, but nothing has changed really,” said a Harare parent, Mrs Danai Gombe.
“We received circulars stating that uniforms should only be bought at school or from this other supplier they have awarded a tender clandestinely.
“What is most disheartening is that the uniforms they are forcing us to buy are very expensive as compared to other alternatives.” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Dr Takavafira Zhou said Government has to deploy people to investigate the malpractice as well as to enforce its policies.
“What is happening is that schools are trying to monopolise the uniform business by either forcing parents to buy uniforms at school or referring them to a specific supplier,” said Dr Zhou.
“And these uniforms are ranging from $800 to $2 500, which nobody can afford because salaries have not increased.
“Just imagine those parents with two or three children, they will not cope.”
Dr Zhou called on Government to take control and ban schools from selling uniforms.
The collusion between suppliers and schools, he said, needs to end.
He described the participation of schools in uniforms business as a “crude way for schools to hike school fees”.
PTUZ threatened to take to the streets to demonstrate if uniform prices are not reduced.
A recent survey carried out by The Sunday Mail Society showed that school uniform prices in most of retail outlets in the capital had indeed gone up markedly.
This was also confirmed by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) president Denford Mutashu, who said a standard high school blazer that was priced around $50 last January is now fetching as much as $500.
“This is a result of inflation and chiefly the currency distortions that we are currently experiencing as a country,” said Mr Mutashu.
“So you will find out that most retailers are pegging their prices against the value of US dollars on the parallel market. But there are also quite a lot who have taken advantage of the situation and have even gone beyond parallel market rates.”
Investigations revealed that a single set of boys’ uniform starting Grade 1 at Chirodzo Primary in Mbare is currently pegged at $281.
Should a parent decide to buy a double set, as has been the norm, the price can reach as high as $500.
At the same school, a single set of girls’ uniform is going for $305.
At Harare High School, also in Mbare, school fees and uniform prices are bundled together, while a single set of boys’ uniform at Malborough High is being quoted at $482.
It’s a tough situation for a majority of parents whose salaries have largely remained unchanged.
But it is not only the uniforms that the parents are worried about as most schools have either increased school fees or are demanding payment in foreign currency.
“What we are saying is that this situation does not motivate teachers to perform their duties because we are also parents,” said Dr Zhou.
“Several schools are now in the process of applying for fees hike so we are going to demonstrate.”
A parents’ representative body, the Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations and Committees (ZSDA/C), said it was totally against the unjustified increase of uniform prices and school fees.
ZSDA/C president Mr Claudio Mutasa said his organisation will soon take up these concerns with Government.
In a statement, Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela recently warned schools against arbitrary fee increases, saying they should follow proper procedure.
Schools were also directed to accept all valid forms of payment.
“All modes of payment currently obtaining in Zimbabwe shall be accepted for fees and levies settlement,” she said.
“For the avoidance of doubt, requests by schools for payment in specific currency are not acceptable.
“Pursuant to the need to promote access to education for all, parents/guardians will procure the uniforms from the best advantage.
“Schools submit the requirements to the parents/guardians who will procure the uniforms from the best quotation they can. Sunday Mail.