Workers struggle amidst post office failures

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

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The state of the Vlaeberg post office in July 2023 (above) and in November 2022 (below). Photos: Brent Meersman.

  • Customers have a litany of complaints about how dysfunctional post offices are in Cape Town. Employees are also complaining about work conditions.
  • Almost 60 branches have closed or are closing on the peninsula.
  • On Tuesday last week the appointment of business rescue practitioners for the South African Post Office was ratified.

“Since Covid-19, things haven’t returned to normal,” a worker at the Gatesville post office, 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 as 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 fetched once a week on a Wednesday, according to the worker.

Systems don’t always come back after loadshedding. There had only been one working computer from Monday until Thursday the previous week when the IT technician finally came.

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, and then bring it back to be stamped, said the employee.

Another employee, at 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 extraordinarily long delays in mail delivery, and if people want to officially complain, the call centre just adds to the frustration, we were told. When we called, the phone rang for ten minutes and then the line dropped.

Yet the post office is meant to do far more than just deliver letters. It is where people in under-serviced areas access communications and government services, such as renewal of motor vehicle registrations and TV licenses. It also distributes social grants to millions of people as well as delivers medication. It is also the branch network of the Postbank.

At the Parow office on Thursday, customer Janet Anderson, 65, said she had come all the way from Delf as the Delft post office was closed that day. Anderson needed a Postbank statement for a hired 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 collecting post.

“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 Masters 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 license,” said another customer, “but they said because of load shedding they can’t swipe my bank card.”

The branch had no backup power. Staff could be seen sorting mail using their mobile 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 into 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.

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.

A postal worker in Gatesville said staff were overworked because the Gatesville branch had to take over services of surrounding post offices that have been closed. Photo: Tariro Washinyira

TOPICS:  Government

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