The SA Post Office is a good example of the pathetic service which South Africans have grown to expect from state-owned enterprises.
MyBroadband recently tested the Post Office’s letter delivery service to see how long it takes for letters which were sent from different parts of the country to arrive.
The results were shocking. After two weeks only one letter arrived, and this letter was sent via Fastmail from the destination’s neighbouring Post Office.
Many South Africans have stopped using the SA Post Office, where the timely delivery of a letter or package is celebrated as amazing rather than it being the norm – as it should be.
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, the postal service is highly reliable, and letters and packages are often delivered on the day they are sent.
In fact, for most ecommerce stores in these countries the postal service is one of the most-used options for shopping deliveries.
It is therefore no surprise that SAPO CEO Mark Barnes said ecommerce should be a big revenue driver for them.
Barnes missed a huge obstacle, however – when you use the SA Post Office, your package takes weeks to arrive, if it arrives at all.
Many local ecommerce shops told MyBroadband they do not even consider the Post Office as a delivery method, because of the poor service levels.
There was some hope that Barnes would resolve the problems at the Post Office, but MyBroadband’s simple letter delivery test showed that service is still pathetic.
SAPO punting improved service levels
The poor service levels do not seem to bother the government and the Post Office, though.
In its latest annual report, acting SAPO chairman said “mail delivery standards in particular are showing a gradual improvement, which is very pleasing”.
In April 2018, the Post Office even punted its improved performance, saying “there had been a restoration in operations resulting in an 8.47% improvement in the delivery standard of mail”.
Telecommunications and Postal Services minister Siyabonga Cwele said in May 2018 that they were also partnering with the Universal Postal Union to make SAPO one of three ecommerce hubs in Africa.
Like all other failing SOEs, however, the Post Office is asking for more government money to improve its services levels.
Website down for days
It is also not only the Post Office’s letter delivery service which is facing serious problems.
The SA Post Office website experiences regular downtime, and its online presence is seen by many as a complete mess.
In March 2018, for example, accessing the SA Post Office website was impossible, and navigating to www.postoffice.co.za resulted in a “server IP address could not be found” error.
Emails to addresses on the postoffice.co.za domain also bounced, producing a “mail delivery failed” error.
Customers reported that calls to the company’s call centre were not answered, which means they could not track packages or gather information about SAPO services.
This has become a regular occurrence and many people have come to expect website downtime from the company.
SA Post Office mum on the problem
Another illness the Post Office is struck by is the classic behaviour of state-owned enterprises when it comes to facing a problem – ignore it, or deny it exists.
Despite many, many requests for comment regarding the letter delivery problems and website downtime, it is putting its head in the sand.
The SA Post Office failed to answer questions on why letters are not delivered, and how long South Africans can expect for letters to be delivered.
Part of a bigger problem
Many observers see the decline of state-owned enterprises as a direct consequence of the ANC government’s inability to run companies.
Dawie Roodt, chief economist at the Efficient Group, said in a Business Day TV interview the state should be less involved in state-owned enterprises – which include electricity supply and airlines.
He stated that the government has had more than 10 turnaround plans for the state-owned SAA, all of which have failed.
“When are they [the government] going to accept they are not good at running businesses?” asked Roodt.
Economist Mike Schussler said in a recent Renegade Report interview that the problem with state-owned enterprises is that the people who run them were appointed by the government.
“Those guys [the SOE leaders] often played for their own pockets,” said Schussler.
He added that while corruption remains a big challenge at SOEs, there is another challenge when it comes to these leaders.
Schussler explained that many SOE leaders are promoted beyond their competence, which leads to workplace problems.
“They believe they know everything, and that they are there because of their competence. However, if it was not because of their political connections they would not be there,” he said.
He concurred with Roodt that the government should stop providing services like electricity, and rather play the role of regulator.