Former SA Post Office CEO Mark Barnes said the state-owned enterprise (SOE) has “commercially irreplaceable infrastructure” and privatising the enterprise would be “fundamentally wrong and inappropriate”.
Barnes told Business Day TV the Post Office could not be replicated as it provides a trusted destination that serves the entire population.
The SOE is also a link between the formal and informal markets and a “place over which the state can preside in the interests of its people”.
Barnes’ comments come in light of recent calls for the privatisation of various South African SOEs, including the South African Post Office (SAPO), Eskom, and Transnet.
In 2022, SAPO announced losses of more than R2 billion and told parliament that it would need R3 billion in funding from the state to stay functional and financially solvent.
Many people, including the DA, have called for the government to privatise SAPO or risk losing it for good.
If South Africa were to “let the Post Office die”, it would be the only country in the world besides Guatemala not to have a national postal service, said Barnes.
He added that privatising the institution is not the right call, as the private sector will not be able to provide services at the scale that the Post Office can.
“If you were to allow the Post Office to disappear and let courier companies and other private-sector, entirely profit-making entities prevail, then we’d service something like 2% to 3% of the population,” he said. “That’s just fundamentally wrong and inappropriate.”
Barnes explained that SOEs in South Africa do not lack money but are short of time and leadership.
Rather than privatisation, the SAPO should focus on developing “an intelligent understanding of the equations needed to exist”, said Barnes.
For example, the SOE should partner with expertise that will serve the entity.
“All of these things are capable of being repaired, but we are appointing each other to do things instead of gathering our democratically-earned power to appoint experts,” he said.
The SAPO should appoint professionals and focus on incremental, measurable progress rather than “pipedreams”, he said.
Barnes offered to buy a majority stake – between 60% and 75% – in SAPO in 2022 to save the struggling enterprise, but his offer was dismissed.