Lost and Found: More Tales of the South African Postal Service

In early May in the year 2019, in other words last week, I was on my driveway with that day’s stack of mail, starting to go through it as I walked back to the house.

Huh, I thought. What do you know, one of the Christmas cards didn’t make it.

Unusual perhaps, considering that summer break is about to start in the Northern Hemisphere. But I’ve been there before. As you know, I once conducted an experiment to test the South African Postal Service compared with other postal services around the world.

I had been accused of using shady “anecdotal evidence” when complaining about slow and corrupt mail service. So I decided to up my game in terms of evidence.

I made an elaborate spreadsheet tracking every single Christmas card I sent that year, and then badgered everyone to tell me exactly when theirs arrived. No surprise that South Africa took the top, or rather bottom, prize in both the longest average transit time (27 days) and longest actual transit time (44 days). If interested, you can view all the results here. It makes for some fascinating international comparisons.

Back to my driveway in May 2019. No surprise that the offending Christmas card returned to sender was from South Africa.

Hm, I thought again. The Dickerson Family. I don’t recall sending them a card.

And then I dropped my entire stack of mail, I was so shocked. Here is the card so you can see for yourself:

a Christmas card returned from South Africa after two and a half years

It wasn’t the most recent Christmas card, which would have been 2018. It wasn’t even the one from the year before. It was a Christmas card from 2016!

Yes, in one way this is another proof that the South African Postal Service stinks. They have a horrifically high rate of lost or stolen mail, and when stuff does get delivered, it takes much longer than in most other countries in the world.

And yet, I can’t help but have admiration for the fact that this card did, in fact, resurface. Where was it all this time? How many humongous storage facilities must SAPO maintain to be able to house these huge amounts of lost mail – because surely this card is one of many such items?

Essentially, the SA Post Office has managed to hold on to my card for longer than Donald Trump has been president (which everyone knows has been far too long). I mailed it on December 21, 2016, from Nashville, TN. And it was time-stamped by SAPO on February 15, 2019 (and then took still another three months to make it back to Nashville). Where was it in all the time between?

I don’t think SAPO ever attempted to deliver it. The red stamp is smudged so I can’t see what their internal reason for non-delivery was. At the time, the address would have been correct, so had they delivered it then, it should have arrived.  I think it got lost, resurfaced this year, and of course by now these friends have long moved elsewhere.

We will never know. But I find it remarkable that someone spotted my card over two years later and dutifully stamped it, signed and dated it, and sent it on its way.

Somebody at the South African Postal Service was being diligent.

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