Legal View

ICASA backs SAPO in postal wars, amid online protest

Read time 4min 40sec

South Africa’s communications regulator is standing firm in support of the South African Post Office (SAPO), as thousands sign an online petition against an ongoing court bid to block courier companies from distributing small items in SA.

The petitioners believe that if the post office is allowed to be the sole courier of small parcels, this will stifle growth in SA’s burgeoning e-commerce sector.

The online petition on has been signed by over 43 700 protestors, who are urging the High Court to review SAPO's interpretation of the Postal Services Act, saying it infringes on the consumer’s right to choose which courier services to use.

This after SAPO launched court action against PostNet and the SA Express Parcel Association (SAEPA), aiming to make the post office the only operator that can deliver packages weighing 1kg and less.

The court battle is informed by the Postal Service Act, which stipulates the government entity has the exclusive right to provide delivery services for all letters, postcards, printed matter, small parcels and other postal parcels up to and including 1kg.

In 2019, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) ruled in favour of SAPO, ordering courier services to stop delivering small parcels by March 2020.

However, a High Court interdict by PostNet and SAEPA is currently the only thing halting SAPO from taking dominance by handling all smaller parcels.

As the court battle looms, SAEPA says placing limitations on the private courier industry, which is valued at around R20 billion, will have a negative impact on SA’s budding e-commerce sector.

ICASA told ITWeb that as the regulator, its mandate is to implement the law.

“ICASA is appreciative and humbled by the public and citizens in exercising their freedom of expression. ICASA’s regulatory role is not based on the belief of SAPO or any other licensee, but rather on the enforcement of the current legislative regime pertaining to postal services,” says ICASA spokesperson Paseka Maleka.

“At this stage, and in accordance with the principle of the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution, ICASA shall await the pronouncement of the High Court, and its decision shall be guided by the court’s ruling on the matter.”

According to Maleka, in the event the High Court was to make any ruling, the principle of legality and the supremacy of the Constitution requires ICASA and all parties to abide and comply with the decision of the High Court “irrespective of one’s opinion and/or dissatisfaction”.

Garry Marshall, CEO of SAEPA, an association which represents a large number of e-commerce couriers, says if the court rules in favour of the embattled state-owned entity, this could lead to immense financial and logistics consequences for e-commerce courier partners and online retailers.

“E-commerce shipments make up a significant proportion of total volumes moved. It would be very damaging to online retailers and shoppers.

“Although business-to-consumer e-commerce is still a latent element of total retail sales, it has the potential to become a huge proportion. Its future growth will be severely hampered by an unreliable or inefficient delivery service. It is competition that drives service delivery improvement and keeps prices down, and if SAPO has no competition, then what is their incentive to offer outstanding, efficient service at competitive prices to meet consumer needs?” asks Marshall.

Local e-commerce players had previously warned that the outcome of the ongoing matter could shatter the e-commerce sector and result in disaster for the industry.

According to Marshall, there are two distinct services that SAPO would be required to take full control of – one is a standard postal service which is channelled through the normal mail system – which SAPO can currently handle.

“The second is a courier service which is really what we’re talking about here, and that service offers rapid transit times, track and trace, proof of delivery, and high reliability as standard features. SAPO’s speed service does not have the capacity to deliver all the parcels currently flowing through courier services,” he adds.

Those who have signed the campaign share similar sentiments.

“I work in the industry and their [SAPO’s] service is shocking! What will happen to smaller courier companies? I say no!!” says one campaigner.

“I have had packages that have taken up to six months to deliver of which the tracking showed it is in the post office’s possession for around five of those months and it was to be delivered to my door of which I had to go collect it at my local post office. They still charged a levy to receive this package. I would never want the post office to deliver my packages; they are poor service provider and overcharge at a ransom of holding your packages,” says another.

Another signatory to the petition writes: “The post office is inefficient. We have the right to choose. It’s supposed to be a free country.”

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