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The Post Office

It is not often that a tree gets declared as a National Monument, but in Mossel Bay, Eastern Cape, there is one. This is because it is over 500 years old, but – more particularly – because it is the first post office in South Africa, and it is called the Post Office Tree.

In 1500, Pedro D’Ataide, the captain of a Portuguese ship, placed a letter in the tree. The letter contained a message about the disaster which had struck his fleet. Three ships, including that of Barthlomew Diaz, had gone down during a severe storm over the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors.1

So the postal system – in a manner of speaking – thus found a foothold in the Republic. It was not until 1853 that the first South African postage stamp, the Cape Triangular, was commissioned and a few years later the first post boxes were erected. By 1995, the largest mail sorting centre in the Southern Hemisphere, the Witspos Centre, had been established in Ormonde, Johannesburg.2 In 2014, the Post Office was handling two and a half million items every day.3

There are a number of statutes which govern postal services in the Republic; all fall under the authority of the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services:

These Acts are dealt with compendiously in what follows.7

A. Post Office officials

  1. A person commits an offence if he refuses to perform a duty under the Act.8

  2. It is also an offence to obstruct any person in the exercise of a power, or performance of a duty in terms of the Act.9

  3. It is an offence to accept any unauthorised fee or reward (either directly or indirectly) as a result of your position with the Post Office.10

B. Post Office insignia and impersonation

  1. It is an offence to use the name, logo or design of the Post Office without authorisation.11

  2. Any person who places or maintains any word or mark in, on or near any house, premise, wall, door, window, box, post, pillar or other place (or allows this) which may imply that that place is a Post Office, commits a criminal offence.12

  3. It is a criminal offence to impersonate an employee of the Post Office, or in any way falsely to represent yourself to be one of its employees.13

C. The Board of the Post Office

  1. When someone is nominated for appointment to the Board, he must (before the appointment) submit to the Minister a full written disclosure of all his financial interests, and a declaration that he has no direct or indirect conflicts of interest. If, after appointment, any further interests are acquired or conflicts arise, they must be declared immediately. It is an offence not to do this.14

  2. If any Board member engages in any activity that may undermine the integrity of the Post Office, he commits an offence.15

  3. It is also a criminal offence to make improper use of the position as a Board member, or of information acquired by virtue of being a Board member.16

  4. A member of the Board or his family member, business partner or associate, or an organisation or enterprise in which a member of the Board or his family member, business partner or associate has a direct or indirect interest, may not offer goods or services to the Post Office or conclude any business with it and commits an offence if he does.17

  5. They may also not make improper use, in any manner whatsoever, of the position of a Board member or of any information acquired by a Board member by virtue of his position as a Board member. It is a crime to do otherwise.18

D. The Postbank

The Postbank used to be a division of the old Post Office. The South African Postbank Limited Act 2010 established the Postbank as a statutory company, with its own Board of Directors.

  1. As with the Post Office, currently, and its Board, when someone is nominated for appointment to the Board of the Postbank, he must (before the appointment) submit to the Minister a full written disclosure of all his financial interests, and a declaration that he has no direct or indirect conflicts of interest. If, after appointment, any are acquired, further interests or conflicts arise, they must be declared immediately. It is an offence not to do this.19

  2. If any discussion or decision on any matter before the Board of the Postbank concerns the direct or indirect interest of a member or his family member, business partner or associate, he must immediately disclose it and may not be present or take part in the discussion or decision. It is a crime to contravene this provision.20

  3. If any Board member engages in any activity that may undermine the integrity of the Postbank company, he commits an offence.21

  4. It is also a criminal offence to make improper use of the position as a Board member, or of information acquired by virtue of being a Board member.22

  5. A member of the Board of the Postbank, or his family member, business partner or associate, or an organisation or enterprise in which a member of the Board or his family member, business partner or associate has a direct or indirect interest, may not offer goods or services to the Postbank company or conclude any business with the Company and commits an offence if he does.23

E. Operating a postal service

There are two kinds of postal services:

  1. There are certain exceptions (for example, the service of legal documents, or trade announcements) but basically no one may operate any postal service – of whichever type – unless he is registered. Any person who contravenes this prohibition commits an offence.27

  2. It is an offence if you do not comply with the conditions of your licence and registration, or (if operating an unreserved postal service) you are not in possession of your registration certificate.28

  3. Any postal service operator who fails or refuses to produce a licence or registration certificate for inspection when required to do so commits an offence.29

  4. If you make a false statement in applying for a licence, knowing it to be false, you commit a crime.30

F. Forgery of stamps, postal orders, etc.

  1. It is an offence knowingly to make or in any way deal in, or use, or have in your possession an imitation of a postage stamp, date stamp, envelope, money order, postal order, acknowledgment of deposit, and the like.31

  2. Anyone who makes or who in any way deals in or has in his possession any plate or engraving of a stamp or mark, device or figure used for or for the purposes of the Post Office or a postal authority (i.e. a foreign postal authority) commits an offence.32

  3. It is a crime to make or possess any mould, framework or other instrument on which appear words, letters, figures, marks, lines and other devices peculiar to paper used or provided for postage stamps (or for any functions of the Post Office or any postal authority).33

  4. It is a crime to make or possess any paper on which words, letters, figures, marks or devices peculiar to paper used for postage stamps appear, or which is used for any other purpose of the Post Office (or any postal authority).34

  5. If you make, or in any way deal in, or have in your possession or control any paper to be used for postage stamps or other functions of the Post Office (or any postal authority) it is an offence.35

  6. If you make use of, or in any way deal in, or have in your possession or control any stamp, die,36 plate or paper which is engraved or made for the purposes of the functions of the Post Office (or any postal authority) it is an offence.37

  7. It is also an offence if you in any way deal in any paper or material which bears an impression or mark of any such stamp, plate or die.38

  8. Any person who makes any mark purporting to be an official stamp or mark used for the functions of the Post Office (or any postal authority), on an envelope, paper, etc. commits an offence.39

  9. It is also an offence to mark on any article any words, letters or devices implying that it has been or is entitled to be sent through the post.40

G. Disfiguring, tampering, obstructing and illegal mail

  1. It is a crime to send fire, match, or light, or any explosive, dangerous, filthy, noxious or deleterious matter in the post.41

  2. Any person who puts into or against a Post Office any fire, match or light, or any explosive, dangerous, filthy, noxious or deleterious matter commits an offence.42

  3. If you by false pretences induce any employee of the Post Office to deliver to you any postal article not intended for you, it is an offence.43

  4. Similarly, if you induce a Post Office employee to deliver any postal article to another person which is not intended for him, you commit an offence.44

  5. If, otherwise than in your duty, you open, tamper with, destroy, hide, or steal any mail or postal article you commit an offence.45 If you allow this to happen, it is also an offence.46

  6. Any person who interferes with the sending of mail, or it is interfered with due to your conduct or neglect, you commit an offence.47

  7. If you do anything whereby the due delivery of a postal article is delayed, prevented or obstructed, you commit an offence.48

  8. Any person who keeps or hides any mail or postal article which ought to have been delivered to another person commits an offence.49

  9. NOTE: Various offences are prescribed in connection with telegrams.50 However, the definition of telegram has been deleted and as far as I have been able to ascertain, telegrams are a thing of the past.

H. Post Office buildings

  1. It is a crime to paint or place anything on any post office, its property, and its notices, or damage them or commit any nuisance against them.51
  1. www.postoffice.co.za — ‘History’ See also www.diasmuseum.co.za — ‘Post Office Tree’. 

  2. www.postoffice.co.za loc cit. 

  3. www.timeslive.co.za —‘Pushing the Envelope’. 

  4. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 22 of 2011. 

  5. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 44 of 2013. 

  6. Act 22 of 2011. 

  7. There is also the Post and Telecommunication-related Matters Act 1958 but that is dealt with under ‘Telkom’. 

  8. Section 30(1)(d). 

  9. Section 30(1)(d). 

  10. Section 30(1)(e). 

  11. Section 30(1)(f). 

  12. Section 30(1)(g). 

  13. Section 72. 

  14. Section 30(4) read with section 10(3)(b)(1) and ii. 

  15. Section 13(c)vii read with section 30(4). 

  16. Section 13c(v)iii read with section 30(4). 

  17. Section 13(b)i read with section 30(5). 

  18. Section 13(b)ii read with section 30(5). 

  19. Section 29(1) read with section 13(3)(b)i and ii of the Postbank Act. 

  20. Section 29(1) read with section 16(2) of the Postbank Act. 

  21. Section 29(1) read with section 16(1)(c)vii of the Postbank Act. 

  22. Section 29(1) read with section 16(1)(c)viii of the Postbank Act. 

  23. Section 16(1)(b)i read with section 29(2). 

  24. Which are set out in Item 3 of Schedule 1 of the Postal Services Act. 

  25. Section 1 of Schedule 1 to the Postal Services Act. 

  26. Section 1 of Schedule 2 to the Postal Services Act. 

  27. Section 80(1) read with section 15(1) and section 20 of the Postal Services Act. 

  28. Section 80(1) read with section 20 of the Postal Services Act. 

  29. Section 62 of the Postal Services Act. 

  30. Section 73 of the Postal Services Act. 

  31. Section 66(1)(a) of the Postal Services Act. 

  32. Section 66(1)(b) of the Postal Services Act. 

  33. Section 6691)(c) of the Postal Services Act. 

  34. Section 66(1)(d) of the Postal Services Act. 

  35. Section 66(1)(d) of the Postal Services Act. 

  36. An engraved metal stamp for embossing. 

  37. Section 66(1)(e) of the Postal Services Act. 

  38. Section 66(1)(e) of the Postal Services Act. 

  39. Section 66(1)(f) of the Postal Services Act. 

  40. Section 66(1)(f) of the Postal Services Act. 

  41. Section 68(1) of the Postal Services Act. 

  42. Section 68(1) of the Postal Services Act. 

  43. Section 67(c) of the Postal Services Act. 

  44. Section 67(c) of the Postal Services Act. 

  45. Section 71 and section 69 of the Postal Services Act. 

  46. Section 69 of the Postal Services Act. 

  47. Section 70 of the Postal Services Act. 

  48. Section 71 of the Postal Services Act. 

  49. Section 67(b) of the Postal Services Act. 

  50. See Sections 74 and section 75, for example. 

  51. Section 67(a) of the Postal Services Act.