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

The SA Post Office (Sapo) has again missed its self-imposed deadline to sort through its backlog from the two-week strike in July and still has about 7.8-million items to dispatch in order to catch up.

CEO Mark Barnes has previously said that the Post Office would get back to normal at the end of September and then again at the end of October. Barnes now says that the end of November is the new deadline.

During the strike and one-week go-slow that preceded it, Sapo accumulated a backlog of 38-million parcels and letters. About 1-million new items come in for processing every day.

The backlog has caused enormous frustration among the public, some of whom say they have been waiting months for items they expected to receive.

Sapo has faced a litany of operational setbacks since 2017 as liquidity constraints led 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 July’s strike came as the last straw for the public, which since the huge 2014 strike has lost confidence that it is able to deliver.

Barnes said the reason it had taken longer than expected to clear the backlog was the increased volumes towards the end of the year due to the festive season, and increased volumes due to increased internet postage. Unpaid bills had also led to problems with availability of equipment, such as letter sorting machines and vehicles.

The busy season for the Post Office is October to January, and the aim is to clear the backlog by the end of November, Barnes said. "People are starting to receive their mail although we still have a challenge [with] international mail, which is pouring into SA.

"The internet is enabling people to buy things overseas for far cheaper than they can get them here, so we are seeing a massive increase in internet-based post. Registered mail, for instance, is up 600%."

Sapo lacks the technology to easily deal with registered overseas mail, which must be processed manually and captured for customs purposes. International mail was also until recently routed through Johannesburg before being sent on to other regional centres.

Barnes said that since April, Sapo had developed a huge backlog in supplier payments, which had hampered its operations, but the prospects of financial support announced in the adjustment budget last  week of R2.9bn had alleviated those problems. "We are going to invest in infrastructure; we have already a lot of investment for the social grants payments and we are going to do more."