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Minister outlines ambitious SAPO e-commerce aspirations

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 24 Mar 2022
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. (Image source: Twitter)
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. (Image source: Twitter)

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says the SA Post Office (SAPO) will be an e-commerce hub, not only for South Africa, but for the continent, by the end of her tenure (2024).

Ntshavheni made the commitment while unpacking a range of issues pertaining to her department and its entities on eNCA’s Power to Truth with Dr JJ Tabane show yesterday.

The minister told the host that SAPO will be an e-commerce integrator for the country and African continent, adding it will be the base for business digital hubs in the country.

“This is part of ensuring we are bridging the digital divide between the rural and urban areas. Those services that people get in internet shops, they are going to get in post offices in the rural areas and some of the townships.”

Her comments come as the embattled national postal service seeks a R1.6 billion bailout from government, as it tries to turn its fortunes around and be a serious contender in the digital age and burgeoning e-commerce space.

Explaining why government simply doesn’t partially-privatise the post office like it has with some of its other entities, Ntshavheni said the post office is for the poor.

“There are areas where the post office is there but there’s not any other government or municipality [establishment] there.

“We are repositioning the post office to be a government service centre in the rural areas and townships where the government is not there.”

The post office – as the custodian of the postal network for both physical and postal addresses – will be a key player for the future, according to the minister. “You can also hold me to the fact that the post office is going to be the logistics centre of this country.”

Public school e-mail revolution

As part of the repositioning of the post office and making it viable, Ntshavheni indicated all learners in public schools will be equipped with an e-mail address.

The minister explained that SA’s regulator for the .za namespace .ZADNA, in partnership with the departments of communications and basic education, is spearheading the process to give every learner an e-mail address.

“People who are able to sign up for e-mail addresses on the internet is for you who are in the middle class and privileged. Kids in the townships don’t have e-mail addresses.

“With that e-mail address, the teacher will be able to do a group e-mail for the class and be able to send class work without worrying about whether it will be received or not.”

The minister told Tabane that when most people were doing things online, children in rural areas were unable to go to school online. “If we make sure there are those domains, e-mail addresses and they are secured – then they can continue to enjoy the learning like other children.”

Ntshavheni first made note of e-mail addresses for learners at yesterday’sDCDT/Naspers stakeholder summit ahead of the fourth SA Investment Conference.

The minister said: “All learners in public schools, from grade R to grade 12 and those in community colleges have an e-mail address with applicable security features and digital signatures. This will allow teachers to share educational content with the learners and some level of learning to take place online.

“However, this will require the development of e-learning content that will be led by the departments of education (basic and higher education) with SITA playing a supporting role.”

Commenting on what she’d like to see implemented and assessed in a year-or-so, the minister pointed to artificial intelligence, as well as the movement towards a full digital economy in the country.