The very same day, I received an email from legal assist, asking for help. A client emigrated from Cape Town to the US in November 2016. All the family’s belongings, household goods, documents, clothes and shoes, kids' toys, irreplaceable personal items, computers and backup discs basically “my family's whole life, was packed in nine big boxes, to be shipped to Florida. We have been assured that it's safe as it's registered," Mike Honsa, the chief executive of Honsa Group, said.
He posted the valuables with the SA Post Office (Sapo) on November 7, 2016 by registered mail. But all attempts to trace the parcels failed “as the Post Office website was down and the links to tracing were broken”.
He started his enquiries in February 2017 after nothing arrived - just to realise there was no way to trace his belongings.
"Customer service doesn’t answer calls and the line disconnects after 12 minutes," he wrote. “All emails were ignored (although I've got proof they had been opened and read). At the very beginning, a Jim from the Post Office replied once, telling us the parcels are still in Cape Town (three months after being posted), since the container is not full yet.”
Honsa hired a lawyer but that “also got nowhere” (various unsuccessful attempts to get hold of any person in charge at Sapo failed) and then he emailed me. “Please help: I paid the Post Office to steal my stuff." Any editor will open an email with such a heading.
The lawyer’s take on the story was shocking: “The Post Office has no contract with any shipping agent to deliver any goods in the US, since November 2016. Why did the Post Office accept the shipment and the payment of R10 500, knowing that it can never be shipped? This is pure criminal and fraud at its best. These people think they are untouchable," he wrote.
This is where the good news kicks in. I happen to know the current chief executive of Sapo quite well. As business and financial markets editor at my previous employer, I often reported on the successes of Standard Merchant, Brait and Purple Capital, headed up or founded by Mark Barnes.
Needless to say, one email to Barnes, and I was answered within a few hours by Barnes himself.
Barnes went all out to find the family’s valuables.
Read also: Sapo to launch as bank
Mark Jansen van Rensburg, the acting senior general manger: operations at Sapo, confirmed the following:
With regard to the email from Michael Honsa:
Mr Honsa’s items are safe and are part of the lodgement being handed over to a newly appointed shipping agent in Cape Town. Indications are that they will be shipped during this week, latest next week. Just awaiting confirmation from the shipping agent which ship has loading space.
Mr Honsa’s items just missed the shipment to the US on November 24, 2016. These items just missed this consignment. Shipping agents in Cape Town are normally awarded the shipping of mail from Cape Town to five destination countries, namely: US, Canada, UK, Netherlands and Germany. An extension was made to their contract and the last shipment sent with the previous shipping agent was shipped to the UK and Germany on March 14 and 15, 2017.
Where the SA Post Office does not have a contract, shipping agents are appointed on a quotation basis. I would like to apologise for the inconvenience on behalf of the SA Post Office.
Mark-Anthony Jansen van Rensburg
Acting Senior General Manager Operations
I suppose Dr Du Plessis is right: it is who you know. What is concerning is that the very same Sapo might be responsible for paying out social grants. Trust can only be earned. I trust that Barnes will get it right. Only time will tell.