The South African Post Office (Sapo) has released an important reminder: there are now only 406 days left until Christmas, 2019, so be sure to post your cards and parcels this week if you want them to arrive a week late.

That is, of course, a joke: if the Post Office had released a media statement this week, you’d only be reading it in February.

Luckily, however, journalists sometimes work more quickly than post offices, and this week Carol Paton managed to swim across the shallow sea of undelivered letters, scale the brown-paper-and-string-wrapped Mountains of Despair, fight her way through a blizzard of stamps, crow-bar-open the rusted-shut doors of the Executive Letterbox, and find out what the hell is going on.

The short answer: quite a lot, and also pretty much nothing. The trouble, it turns out, is that the Post Office still hasn’t recovered from a strike in July which saw workers win a salary increase backdated to April 1, which, incidentally, is when you should have posted your letters to have them arrive by 2025. According to CEO Mark Barnes, the Post Office hoped to have worked through the backlog of millions of undelivered items by the end of the September, which then became the end of the October. But don’t worry: Barnes says everything should be back to normal by the end of November. Which is great, because there’s nothing like a normal South African postal service: the thrill of getting a postcard from a friend two months after that friend returned from holiday; that warm glow of opening a Christmas card in mid-March; the intrigue of cutting open a mashed-in, crumpled package, pouring out small bits of broken ceramic, and trying to imagine what they once were. Still, it’s not goi...

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