I normally try to avoid dealing with the South African post office. Its service is usually disappointing, while its charges are usually excessive.
I have also found its slogan, “We deliver whatever it takes“, to be an empty promise, judging from the number of Birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter cards, CDs, calendars, and other presents, both to and from me, that have never reached their destination.
This time, though, I unfortunately needed their cooperation in sending copies of my book to various people in South Africa and overseas.
So I did my research at our local post office, and discovered that, in order to send a copy of my book in a padded envelope to addresses anywhere in South Africa, it would cost me R5.65, and to addresses anywhere outside South Africa, R30.65.
The local cost was fine, and the overseas one was not exactly cheap, but okay, I was willing to pay for the privilege of sending it by airmail rather than by ship or overland (do they even DO that nowadays? I wonder…).
So I duly sent off a few batches of books over a couple of weeks.
A few days ago, however, when I took another padded envelope to the Howard Centre post office to buy the requisite stamps, the rather officious lady behind the counter (whom I had so far not dealt with), informed me snootily that it would cost me R46.60.
“But look, the last few times I was here, I paid R30.65, so why has the cost suddenly increased?”
“What’s in the envelope?” she demanded.
“A present,” I said, reluctant to elaborate further, in case it conveniently went missing in the sorting room.
“What is it?” she demanded, more fiercely, glaring at me.
“A book,” I admitted, grinding my teeth in annoyance.
“If it’s a book, it costs more, because you can’t put it through a fax machine,” she announced triumphantly, clearly pleased that she’d outwitted me, before accusing me, “you should have paid R46.60 every time.”
(“Because you can’t put it through a fax machine”???? What the blazes did that have to do with it????)
Quite frankly, I wanted to …
Never mind… Deeeeep breath.
Smirking at the fact that she had riled me effectively, she thunked a green sticker onto the envelope, scribbling something on it – probably, “Contains book, please steal en route!” Or “Make sure you hold this indefinitely at customs in Germany.”
Churning inside, I laid my money down on the counter, and then had the temerity (judging from the flicker of annoyance that passed across her face) to ask for a receipt. Well, I’m bloody well going to add such exorbitant costs to my business expenses!
This morning, I had to head over to the post office again with another padded envelope. As I walked past the post office, I could see she was on duty. Drat! So I tried my luck at PostNet, conveniently situated next door. I approached the counter and spoke to a young man, who said that he was new there.
“So when do you want this to arrive in Germany?” he inquired, politely.
“I’d like to send it by airmail, so a week, two weeks is fine with me,” I explained. “Just not by ship or over land or something like that.”
He weighed the envelope, consulted a file containing the rates, and then knocked me out entirely with the gleeful proclamation, “That’ll be R346.”
After I had picked myself up off the floor, I asked tentatively, “Erm, do you mean R3, 46 cents, or R34, 60 cents, by any chance?”
“Nope, three hundred and forty six rands,” he was positively beaming. Probably because he must have realised that he’d just single-handedly rescued PostNet from bankruptcy, if they were henceforth going to charge such extortionate rates for all overseas mail!
The expression on my face must have signalled that all was not well.
“The post office charges me R30 to send this overseas,” I ventured. “How is it possible that you charge over R300 for the same thing?”
His face fell. “I’m new here,” he muttered, “let me double-check.”
He went to speak to one of the other people working there, weighed the envelope again, said something about the category, and consulted the schedule in the flip file once more.
“No, it’s R346,” he confirmed.
Next stop, unfortunately, the post office. And the fate of the queue led me straight to my nemesis.
She smirked, clearly recognising me as the obstreperous woman who had made such a fuss last time. I handed over the R46.60 without bothering to argue with her, and requested my receipt.
Oh, how I hate our postal service.
Thank God for email and the internet.