EDITORIAL: The Post Office doesn’t even know it’s dead
Now the government is being asked for billions in bailouts
Walk into any of the 1,266 post offices around South Africa and about the only action you’re likely to see are tumbleweeds rolling through the place. Broken windows, computers “offline”, leaking roofs and demotivated staff who have to bring their own toilet paper to work are routine.
It’s no wonder. It’s been clear for years that the original business of the South African Post Office — sending and receiving letters and parcels — has long since fled to places that actually do this, including PostNet, DHL, The Courier Guy and FedEx.
Perhaps the most damning statistic is that last year, only 68% of mail got delivered. Why would anyone, or any business, possessed of any real alternative dare to trust this haphazard locus of ineptitude with delivering anything of value, given that it’s touch and go whether it’ll actually get there? Little wonder that last year, there were more than 81,000 complaints to its call centre — roughly 400 for every working day in the year.
It must be said that there are few state-owned postal services worldwide that sustain themselves by just dealing with post — they have all had to adapt, incorporating new technology and e-commerce models. The Post Office has done none of this.
Instead, pretty much the only business most post offices seem to do nowadays is renew vehicle licences. And while you could argue it serves as a site from which the 18-million monthly social grants are handed out, the reality is that just 4.4% of the grants’ value was withdrawn at post offices in 2021.
Little wonder that last year it clocked up a R2.2bn loss.
And yet, this is the company from which the Communications Workers Union (CWU) is now demanding a 15% salary increase, a R2,500 housing subsidy and a R900 housing allowance. Talk about overplaying your hand.
It speaks volumes that a few weeks ago, after the union vowed to shut down post offices over its demands, hardly anyone noticed. Barely 200 people joined the march, which the Post Office said had a “minimal impact” on operations.
If the ‘Post Office of Today’ has been about as successful as Lindiwe Sisulu’s presidential bid, why would a ‘Post Office of Tomorrow’ be anything else than a basket case?
It seems the department of communications & digital technologies is as deluded about the value of the business as the unions. Last month it asked for a R3.4bn bailout from the government — R1bn before April to fund its cash flow shortfall, and R2.4bn to finance a “Post Office of Tomorrow” strategy.
Unless there’s a workable turnaround plan, the answer should be “no”. If the “Post Office of Today” has been about as successful as Lindiwe Sisulu’s presidential bid, why would a “Post Office of Tomorrow” be anything else than a basket case?
If you want a sense of how a bailout would be tantamount to throwing good money after bad, consider a test performed by news website MyBroadband, in which it sent four packages between Gqeberha and Centurion — two by ordinary mail and two by registered mail. One of the parcels sent via ordinary mail (but with a GPS tracker) spent eight months wedged in the postal system, before finally arriving back at the sender’s address.
Consider that the first mail boat, the Eclipse, which delivered post between England and Cape Town in 1815, took 114 days to make the journey — less than half that time.
And yet the unions now argue the Post Office must be protected, by passing new laws to give it a monopoly over delivering parcels of less than 1kg. This illustrates just how little the unions think of the Post Office’s customers.
Let’s be clear: granting a monopoly to such an inept organisation would hurt everyone who uses these services. Just as pointless, in fact, as giving a bailout to a company without any sustainable business model. Would it deliver an economic return for the country? What would we, as citizens, get in return for our tax money?
The answer, at this point, is precious little. Billions were spent bailing out SAA for years, and ultimately the airline collapsed anyway. It was a recipe for value destruction. It’s a lesson we ought to heed.
Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.