The South African Post Office (SAPO) is attempting to enforce a ‘reserved postal services’ provision, which would prohibit any institution but itself from handling postal items weighing one kilogramme or less.

This is according to a feature piece published in The Citizen on Saturday.

Legislation currently grants such a monopoly to SAPO, but it has been widely ignored in practice. Numerous courier firms provide such services as concerns about the reliability of SAPO have seen customers seek alternatives. However, in September 2018, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa handed down a decision in a dispute between SAPO and Postnet that affirmed the former’s advantageous position.

ICASA said: ‘There is no doubt that the Postal Services Act 1998 has created a monopoly in favour of SAPO. The monopoly is clearly intended to place SAPO in a financial position to widen the availability of postal services throughout the country; a country, the large majority of the people of which has been wracked60 by and is still, inter alia, suffering economically from the pre-1994 apartheid past.’

A business such as Postnet ‘cannot lawfully encroach on or frustrate this exclusivity’.

However, Postnet has launched an application to challenge this, contends that its service is different from that offered by SAPO. In any event, said Postnet managing director, Christopher Wheeler, ‘By its own light, SAPO does not have the capacity or capability to play this role.’

SAPO commented that: ‘The premise of the complaint is precisely that SAPO’s challenges have I art been caused by competitors’ on-adherence to the regulations and therefore depriving SAPO of much needed revenue to maintain and modernise its infrastructure.’

Should SAPO be able to secure a crackdown on competitors, it is possible that this would have a severe impact on e-commerce. The theft of packages caused global retailer Amazon to suspend deliveries to South Africa in 2008; it now sends them through courier services. Some local online retailers no longer offer delivery through the post office, or warn customers that choosing this option is done at their own risk.