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It’s a ‘nightmare’ – workers and customers struggle amid Post Office failures

It’s a ‘nightmare’ – workers and customers struggle amid Post Office failures
The state of the Vlaeberg post office in July 2023. (Photos: Brent Meersman)

The appointment of business rescue practitioners for the South African Post Office has been ratified.

‘Since Covid-19, things haven’t returned to normal,” a worker at the Gatesville Post Office in Cape Town lamented. “The challenges are beyond our control even though the customers may see it as incompetence… The problems affect both the employees’ and customers’ morale.”

The postal worker, who cannot be named because they could be fired for talking to the press, told GroundUp that staff are overworked because the Gatesville branch has taken over providing services of surrounding post offices that have been closed. Almost 60 Post Offices have closed or are closing on the peninsula.

She gave us a litany of problems at the Gatesville branch.

Mail is only collected once a week, on a Wednesday, according to the worker.

Systems didn’t always come back after rolling blackouts. There had only been one working computer from Monday until Thursday the previous week, when the IT technician finally arrived.

The photocopy machines were not working, which meant customers who wanted Postbank statements were asked to take a photo of their statement on their phone, go elsewhere to get the photo printed, then bring it back to be stamped, said the employee.

Post Office

The state of the Vlaeberg post office in November 2022. (Photo: Brent Meersman)

Another employee, at the Parow Post Office, said he has to deal with irate customers every day.

“The problem is that letters now leave only once a week. So, when I explain to the client that the letter won’t be delivered in the space of time they want, they become angry.”

“I used to enjoy doing my work, but not anymore,” he said.

South African Post Office customers have long lamented the dysfunction of the Post Office. Many complaints are about extraordinary long delays in mail delivery, and if people want to officially complain, the call centre only adds to the frustration, we were told. When we called, the phone rang for 10 minutes and then the line dropped.

Yet the Post Office is meant to do far more than deliver letters. It is where people in underserviced areas access communications and government services, such as renewal of motor vehicle registrations and TV licences. It also distributes social grants to millions of people as well as delivers medication. It is also the branch network of Postbank.

Customers’ lament

At the Parow office on Thursday, customer Janet Anderson (65) said she had come all the way from Delf since the Delft post office had been closed that day. Anderson needed a Postbank statement for a hire purchase she was making.

“I wanted a bank statement, but they said they can’t print statements anymore,” she said.

They said they could email it to her, or she could take a picture of the statement, but Anderson’s phone is broken.

At Vlaeberg Post Office we met Patrick Janicke who was collecting mail.

“We used to get letters every two days, but now when you come after two weeks there is no mail in the box. My boss is always complaining that he is not getting his mail on time.”

A messenger from the Master of the High Court said clients who use the Vlaeberg Post Office were complaining they were not getting their post on time.

“I wanted to pay for a TV licence,” said another customer, “but they said because of load shedding they can’t swipe my bank card.”

The branch had no back-up power. Staff could be seen sorting mail using their phone torches.

Another person said they were collecting their mail for the last time at Vlaeberg.

“This post office is a nightmare… I have closed my mailbox,” they said.

In February 2023, the high court placed the Post Office in provisional liquidation.

In July, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies applied to place the Post Office in business rescue. This was granted and the court appointed Anoosh Rooplal and Juanito Damons as joint interim business rescue practitioners. Their appointment was ratified on Tuesday at a creditors’ meeting.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Business rescue paves way for R6.2bn bailout of SA Post Office — and axing of 7,000 workers

In the opinion of the business rescue practitioners there is a reasonable prospect that the Post Office can be rescued, based on R2.4-billion in funding from Treasury in the medium-term budget, and an additional funding requirement of R3.8-billion for recapitalisation.

A business rescue plan will be published by 30 November 2023. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Flogging a dead horse…

  • John Smythe says:

    This excuse for a government wants to implement an NHI but they can’t even get a post office working. 🙄
    Their incompetence is infinite.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Yet another failure that can be attributed to BEE employment policies and theft of tax payers resources!

  • Rob Scott says:

    Wow – how bad can you mis-manage an entity?

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    How can they complain about the Post Office going bust when it is their behaviour that caused it to go bust ? If they had all fulfilled their duties correctly, promptly and without corruption there’d still be a functioning Post Office. As far as I am concerned their whining is falling on deaf ears.

    • valerie.scofield says:

      I absolutely agree with you. This is the crux of the matter, mail didn’t arrive, particularly Birthday or Christmas cards. Also, parcels never arrived which suggests that things were being stolen at the Post Offices. Therefore, people didn’t trust them and used couriers. A non-functioning business with corruption and theft is soon left alone.

  • Jeff Bolus says:

    Bring back Mark Barnes.

    • Jim F. says:

      Hey, people need to eat a little, even if it is your parcel. Rama’s compact says we must share a little. Feel patriotic in your loss.

  • Pierre Rossouw says:

    To the ANC, the Post Office is not there to provide a public service, it’s there to be milked.

  • John Hepton says:

    Only postal workers with 20 years service know how the Post Office should work.

  • Rory Short says:

    It is very sad to see our SOE’s being run into the ground with the help of the ANC which promised a better life for all South Africans.

  • John B says:

    The Post Office is just a symptom of the whole disaster that is South Africa at the moment. There is nothing that the ANC touches that works like it should. Previously functioning SOE’s have been hollowed out and turned into feeding troughs for the ANC connected elite, they are no longer fit for purpose and to save the tax payers purse they should be closed down & privatised. The ANC have proven that they are incapable of managing a county and the only hope for South Africa is that the voters can see through the lies and empty promises made by the ANC and vote for a better South Africa come the next elections.

  • Peter Merrington says:

    City rates bills arrive in little clusters in my letterbox months after they are due. I phone the City of Cape Town to get my balance each month. In the not-far-distant past, the Post Office was the stamp of modernity in any self-respecting nation-state. In some countries there is still a twice-daily postal service. In SA there is next to nix. Those with the resources to be independent can use email and couriers. The majority, who lack resources, are failed by central government. Failure. One remembers how the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance used to howl down any whiff of privatisation. Seems a bit silly now. Due to state incompetence, we lurch further into the condition of ‘most unequal society in the world’. The sad ironies drive one ape (or into self-reliant gated estates).

  • Rob vZ says:

    I have had a PO Box a Vlaeberg Post Office for 25 years, and renewed my box this morning. I will support the post office as long as it is around, as I love getting post, especially board games from the US and EU.
    The service is certainly not fast, and I find a lot of the bottle necks or delays with international orders are with customs, which seems to be a law until itself and arbitrarily charges VAT amounts from 15% to 40% with no consistency, when post goes to the post office.
    That said, I have never lost any post or had a package not arrive via Vlaeberg PO.
    Ironically, the service appears to have got more efficient with each round of down scaling. I am sad to hear that the staff are taking strain – to be fair, I have never seen them rushing off their feet 🙂
    I hope that the post office turns around – if Mark Barnes wanted to buy it, he clearly saw some potential.
    Long live the post office !

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