Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has published the South African Post Office Amendment Bill for public comment, proposing to expand the postal agency’s duties and mandate.

It also takes aim at courier companies in an explanatory memorandum, bemoaning that private players do not have universal service obligations while the Post Office must ensure it provides services to all South Africans.

“Private operators mostly operate in the affluent areas and cherry-pick where they could make profit as there is no obligation imposed on them,” the memorandum states.

“Their services are not accessible to many, especially those in the rural and other communities since they still need to travel to town to access the services which becomes even more expensive.”

This comes after the Post Office complained to industry regulator Icasa that private couriers were encroaching on its legally protected domain of delivering parcels lighter than 1kg.

Icasa’s Complaints and Compliance Committee sided with the postal agency, effectively saying that it has a legally protected monopoly on small parcel deliveries in South Africa.

PostNet brought the matter to court after the Post Office tried to block it from offering parcel delivery services.

The South African Express Parcel Association (Saepa) and Takealot have since joined the case against the Post Office.
Saepa represents several major couriers in the country, such as DHL and FedEx.

It later emerged that the Post Office’s plan for enforcing its parcel delivery monopoly is to designate private couriers as its official agents — for an “agency fee”.
Ntshavheni’s proposed amendment to the Post Office Act expands the agency’s mandate to include:

· Logistics services
· E-commerce services
· Logistics partner for e-commerce and other logistics players, including SMMEs and informal traders
· Digital hub for businesses and communities
· Designated Authentication Authority — a national Trust Centre in the age of digital identity
· Government services hub

The new law would also give the Post Office the freedom not to offer its full suite of services in all areas.
It would also be able to charge different prices in different areas — subject to Icasa approval.

The amendment also paves the way for the Post Office to use other players’ infrastructure:

“…continuously adjust its business model in line with the technological and industry developments in the provision of postal services and other services… including the roll-out of service points and the use of third-party infrastructure… subject to the approval of the Minister”.

The law also gives the Post Office a mandate to provide any service in response to the needs of users, consumers, and citizens.

It may “exploit the infrastructure capacity to extract value and forge partnerships with other stakeholders with the approval of the Minister”.

The amendment also “encourages” various levels of government to set aside certain services for the Post Office to provide.

This would help eliminate over-reliance on government funding by the Post Office, it stated.

Interested parties have 30 calendar days to comment on the proposed legislation.