Carol Paton Writer at Large

The SA Post Office (Sapo) says it has cleared the huge backlog that has built up over the year, and that the delivery of domestic mail has now been normalised, which means items should be delivered within five days of being posted.

The delays in delivery have attracted furious criticism from the public.

The backlog built up after a strike in July and because of the organisation’s financial difficulties, which led suppliers to withdraw critical equipment such as vehicles and forklifts over delayed payments.

When the strike ended in July, 48-million items required sorting. CEO Mark Barnes said on Thursday "the issues have now been addressed and the backlog is resolved".

Delivery fleets have been restored and the Post Office has benefited from a capital allocation of R2.9bn to fund its operations and settle amounts owed to suppliers, Barnes said.

He had previously promised that the backlog would be cleared by the end of September.

In a statement, Sapo said that it "deeply regretted the strain and inconvenience that was caused to our customers during this period".

The organisation acknowledged that the initial time frame it communicated as its projected period within which it would resolve the backlog had not accurately anticipated the effect of the additional volumes on its operations resources.

"At the time it had been estimated that the Post Office was receiving 1-million new items a day, but over the year as internet shopping grew and as the peak Christmas period approached, this had increased to 2.8-million new items daily," it said.

The Post Office has said it aspires to universal standards that require it to deliver 92% of domestic mail in five days. At the start of 2018, it had achieved a rate of 87%.

The delivery of international mail is still experiencing delays, "with 1.3-million still on hand for delivery".

"We expect the processing of international items to be brought within standard once a number of interventions are fully implemented. We have designated a dedicated processing line to speed up the handling of smaller online shopping-based items that constitute the bulk of the current international volumes on hand," Barnes said.

International items take longer to process as they have to be scanned to ensure that they do not contain contraband items, and each incoming parcel has
to be assessed for possible import duty.

Sapo said that it has made permanent operational interventions in the delivery value chain to ensure quicker turnaround times.