The other day I was rooting through what I used to call my letters folder when a card dropped out. It was bright red, with a picture of a beaming Garfield and three happy mice on it.
“I couldn’t squeeze all of my love for you into this birthday card …” it said.
On the inside: “We wouldn’t want to wrinkle it, would we?”
It was from my parents, for a birthday some years ago, when they lived in Durban and when we still sent cards and parcels to each other. “Yvonne,” it said, in my mom’s spidery script.
“Have a lovely birthday. We will be thinking of you. Love you lots. Mom + Dad.”
We lost my dad five years ago, so maybe it was the last card he had a hand in choosing and sending. And the last time the SA Post Office (Sapo) delivered any mail on time to the correct address.
At some stage my mom gave up sending cards for birthdays. No matter how much notice she factored in, they never got there in time, or at all.
My sister-in-law in Cape Town sent a Christmas card last year, but when I told her it arrived in February she was so crestfallen, I doubt she will send any this year.
The recent attempts to right the wonky SA Post Office ship filled me with optimism, but now I have lost all hope. Late last year, I placed an order with Amazon.com, which arrived in five days.
So overjoyed and impressed was I that I posted the story on Facebook. “No way!” said the replies. “Unheard of!”
A young man dropped off the package so I figured Amazon in the US used a private courier. Puffed up with confidence, I placed an order with Amazon.co.uk.
Clearly, the UK branch thought they could use Sapo, because they naively placed two rare books in the mail.
Estimated delivery date: June 25. In August, I got a notice from Sapo and fetched one book.
I asked the assistant if he could try to find the other one and he scolded me for coming so late after the due date. Then he disappeared into the back and was back within five minutes.
“That one is untraceable.” I thanked him and left. After all, it wasn’t his fault. It’s the fault of the whole Sapo monolith, the leadership who just can’t change anything.
“At least I have got volume one,” I thought to myself. “That’s something.” So we inure ourselves to mediocrity and disappointment.
The UK bookseller was stricken when I contacted Amazon to say volume two had not arrived.
“So terribly sorry,” she wrote in an e-mail and she promptly refunded the money into my account. Since then I have not been into a post office.
Parcels get couriered, family members phone each other on birthdays.
And it leaves me wondering, if Sapo can’t get their core business right – the simple sending and receiving of mail – can they handle the country’s social grants system?
And, if they have so neglected their core business, should they be offering to do Sassa’s work?
Isn’t Sapo’s first duty to deliver mail for the nation?
Maybe high-flying business people like Mark Barnes think sending a letter is an antiquated and irrelevant function but I know quite a few people who don’t use e-mail.
Sapo has destroyed letter writing in South Africa. Now that takes some doing .