Carol Paton Writer at Large
Mark Barnes. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/GCIS
Mark Barnes. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE/GCIS

The SA Post Office has about 38-million items of mail in its depots that need sorting, more than half of which are a backlog from July’s strike.

CEO Mark Barnes, though, said that he is confident it will be cleared by the end of September and that normal operations will resume. Barnes said that prior to the two-and-a-half week strike and the one week go-slow that preceded it, 87% of all mail was reaching its destination within the acceptable time frame of five days. The strike ended on July 18.

"About 1-million new items come into the Post Office every day. We began two weeks ago to deal with the backlog. It will take us another 25 days, until about the end of September, to clear," he said.

The Post Office has faced a litany of operational setbacks over the past year, with liquidity constraints leading to the repossession of equipment such as forklifts and vehicles and an inability to pay suppliers, for instance to print stamps.

The delays caused by the strike came as the last straw for the public, which since the institution’s massive strike in 2014 has lost confidence that it is able to deliver.

COO Lindiwe Kwele, who was appointed a year ago, said business processes have been re-engineered to ensure that the older mail will be sorted first.

"After the strike we had about 45-million parcels to sort. Now we have about 38-million, which includes the backlog and the mail that is coming in each day. I get a daily report on carry-overs. We are prioritising the backlog, but at the same time we have to meet certain standards in the delivery of international mail," she said on Friday.

As part of its licence conditions set by the Independent Communications Authority of SA, the Post Office is supposed to achieve a 92% rate of delivering ordinary mail within five days.

In June 2017, its success rate was 72%. In the months prior to the strike, the Post Office had achieved 87%, Kwele said, despite not having the resources to meet those standards.

"To deliver mail we need bags, pallets, vehicles, drivers and forklifts.

"But there has been no investment in the Post Office for the past 10 years."

The government stopped subsidising the Post Office in 2011, despite the delivery of mail not being profitable.

A recapitalisation of R3.7bn paid by the Treasury in October 2017 was used to pay off debt.

Kwele is hopeful that a new submission on the Post Office’s business case – which now includes the distribution of social grants — will be seen favourably by the Treasury when adjustments are made to the budget in October.