The Competition Commission has reportedly uncovered a cartel of book publishers, and has accused the Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) and its 91 members of colluding to fix book prices, in an alleged flouting of the Competition Act that the commission says has its roots as far back as in the 1980s.
The allegations centre mainly on textbooks, with the commission saying in a statement they have received information that implicates PASA, their members, educational institutions, retailers, book importers and those who sell books to government departments in alleged price-fixing.
Preschool to Grade 12 books, teachers’ guides, support materials, student textbooks, trade books and ebooks are alleged to be among the publications affected.
“Given how widespread the practice is and the importance of the products, we expect the participants to cooperate with the investigation by, among other things, immediately bringing their cartel activities to a stop and approaching the Competition Commission,” said the head of the commission, Tembinkosi Bonakele.
Access to textbooks became a hot topic in 2014 after reports that the department of education in Limpopo had been unable to provide its learners with the necessary materials.
More recently, in 2017, the department of basic education’s continued failure to deliver school textbooks on time in the province prompted the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to consider legal action against government.
“The SAHRC has established, through its Limpopo provincial office, that several schools in the Limpopo province have not received their textbooks on time as ordered by the high court and upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeal,” the SAHRC’s commissioner for basic education, Andre Gaum, said at the time.
In December 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the high court order of 2012, which ruled that the failure to deliver textbooks and learning materials was a violation of the right to basic education of the affected learners.