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Comms minister confirms post office’s R210m debt to Telkom

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 24 Mar 2022

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has confirmed the South African Post Office (SAPO) owes Telkom over R200 million and negotiations to settle the debt are ongoing.

The minister was in Parliament yesterday, answering questions on entities that are within her portfolio, and SAPO’s woes, including its debt burden, which parliamentarians pegged at R4.3 billion, dominated the debate.

Parliamentarians sought clarity from Ntshavheni on media reports that SAPO was on the brink of having its services discontinued by Telkom, unless it coughs up R269 million owed to the telco.

“I must clarify that the SAPO debt to Telkom is not close to R300 million, it’s R210 million, to be specific. We are working with SAPO in repaying that amount,” she said.

When approached for comment on the spat with SAPO over non-payment of bills, Mooketsi Mocumi, Telkom executive: group communication, said: “Unfortunately, we cannot give information on specific customers due to confidentiality.”

Turning to the possible disposal of SAPO to former CEO Mark Barnes, who offered to take over the troubled institution, Ntshavheni reiterated her position that the company is not for sale.

Barnes has offered to buy a majority stake in the financially-depressed institution. In terms of the proposed deal, Barnes and partners in the private sector would own between 60% and 75% of the post office.

Yesterday, in another response to the matter, the minister took a dig at Barnes, saying: "Where I’m sitting, given the period where Mr Mark Barnes was the CEO of SAPO, I start to wonder whether he did not cripple SAPO so he could later come back and want to buy SAPO. Because he wants 51% of SAPO, in what we call in business throwing the javelin. So I’m not comfortable talking about Mr Mark Barnes."

Barnes then responded on Twitter: “I’m sure her apology will be posted to me? Tell us about SAPO employees’ pension fund and medical aid contributions, and SARS… Honourable Minister?”

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

The battle to clean up SAPO and give it a fresh start has been ongoing, as various initiatives have been tabled in an attempt to save the company and jobs.

Last month, Ntshavheni said the company has the potential, if properly harnessed, and plans are afoot to make it a digital post office.

Notwithstanding its current challenges, Ntshavheni believes SAPO has the potential to contribute to SA's social and developmental goals by providing postal, logistics, ICT and government services via its far-reaching postal network.

She told Parliament: “We have supported the board and management of SAPO to develop a strategy to reorganise and reposition the post office to become the leading logistics service provider for South Africa and the region; a logistics service partner to other e-commerce and logistics players, including small, medium and micro enterprise and informal traders nationally and internationally based on its expansive postal network; and an e-commerce hub for South Africa and the region.”