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Minister banks on SAPO becoming key e-commerce player

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 06 Oct 2023
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele.
Communications and digital technologies minister Mondli Gungubele.

Communications minister Mondli Gungubele has used a global stage to reinforce government’s commitment to the troubled South African Post Office (SAPO).

Gungubele was speaking at this week’s Universal Postal Union (UPU) Strategy Summit 2023, in Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

An entity of Gungubele’s ministry, South Africa’s post office is battling to stay afloat, with liabilities said to total approximately R12.5 billion as at 31 July.

The embattled entity was placedunder supervision and in business rescue in July, in an effort to avert final liquidation.

While there have been calls to do away with SAPO, or for it to be partially privatised, the South African government has remained resolute.

Gungubele says the post office remains a valuable part of the country’s critical infrastructure, despite recent financial challenges.

As a result, the minister reassured the global community that “South Africa remains committed to the success of [the] post office”.

“We want to create an efficient, integrated logistics and e-commerce service provider that will play an essential role in providing e-commerce services everywhere, from the advanced commercial centres, to our disadvantaged communities.

“We see the SouthAfrican Post Office as the national e-commerce aggregator central in theplatform economy. We will be looking for partnerships with the online retailers and manufacturers, transport and air freight services, as well as seeking new opportunities to diversify our infrastructure.

“We will also look to create opportunities to work with small, medium and micro enterprises, as well as multinationals, in the ecosystem. We believe the postal community has an invaluable role to play in bringing the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area to all Africans, to strengthen intra-regional trade and connect the world.”

While other postal businesses have modernised services over the years, the troubled local institution has remained behind the digital evolution curve and failed to become a key player in the burgeoning e-commerce sector.

According to the minister, the UPU Strategy Summit provides a valuable stepping stone for SAPO, noting it paves the way for structured partnerships that could provide opportunities to access more e-commerce traffic.

“All we ask for is the acknowledgment and compliance with jurisdiction laws and regulations of member-countries,” he said. “Some amongst us are intentional in protecting the growth of our designated postal operators. The new work being done on digital payment systems, utilising the digital public infrastructure approach, will assist to upgrade our payment settlement systems that will elevate our competitiveness in facilitating transactions.

“We are determined to build the ‘Post Office of Tomorrow’, modernising by investing in the right technology to position the post office to meet the expectations of today’s customers,” he commented.

“We will become an essential e-commerce platform partner in providing logistical solutions for the rapidly-growing digital economy, while fully committed to the UPU’s vision of a single, universal postal platform, that leaves no one behind.

“We have before us the opportunity to strengthen the functioning of our union and build a more integrated, innovative and inclusive postal network that is truly able to meet the needs of its customers and deliver valuable services to all of the citizens of the world.”