Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “post office”

Pre-1994 — or pre-Thatcherist?

In a somewhat disingenuous article, My Broadband accuses Zumas government of returning to a pre-1994 structuring of Posts and Telecommunications:

Zuma going full circle – from apartheid telecoms and back:

Unbeknownst to many people, Zuma returned to the structure used under the apartheid government, which had a Department of Communications and a Department of Post and Telecommunications.

The cabinet of FW de Klerk, which ran South Africa from 16 August 1989 to 11 May 1994, had Roelf Meyer as minister of communications and Piet Welgemoed as minister of post and telecommunication.

Zuma’s decision to go back to the pre-1994 structure is seen as a mistake by many commentators – and they have a point.

In South Africa, telecommunications services were operated by the South African Post Office until 1991. It therefore made sense to combine telecommunications and postal services into one ministry.

However, Telkom became a public company in 1991, which meant that it started to operate independently from the SA Post Office.

This is rather misleading, and the give-away is there in the text — it was F.W. de Klerk’s National Party government that privatised Telkom back in 1991, and the ANC government inherited that structure in 1994. The previous structure was not a specifically apartheid one, but was found in most Commonwealth countries before the Thatcher-era privatisation mania.

telephone-5579776Back in the 19th century post offices handled the delivery of written communications, whether physically, by means of hard copy, or electrically, by means of telegraphs. These were complementary, and the services were integrated. Later telephones added voice communications to the mix but in many cases the same infrastructure was used.

Was the apartheid between posts and telecommunications brought about by privatisation a good thing? Some, like the people at My Broadband, might argue that it is, but don’t try to muddy the issue by pretending that the integration had anything to do with apartheid in the past.

postboxThere are similar problems when it comes to moving people, rather than moving words and pictures. An integrated bus, train, and mini-bus taxi public transport system would arguably be of greater benefit to the travelling public. But such a thing meets opposition from vested interests in the privatised taxi industry, and those vested interests are sometimes prepared to use hitmen to oppose integration, where as those with vested interests in privatised telecommunications services have not gone as far as that. But in principle the issues are the same.

Inexpensive progress

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes
Let all things travel faster
Where motor-car is master
Till only Speed remains.

So wrote John Betjeman in his poem Inexpensive progress (c1955) — about the time that Britain got its first motorway. I’m sure he didn’t foresee the congestion and the joys of sitting stationary in freeway traffic jams.

About 25 years ago the mailships between Britain and South Africa were phased out in the name of “progress”. Containerisation had killed them and made then uneconomic, we were told. So overseas surface mail became subject to the erratic and uncertain sailing schedules of container ships, and letters that could previously be guaranteed to arrive within two weeks could take six weeks to two months, or even longer. And now airmail usually takes at least two weeks.

And now Chessalee notes the passing of another milestone in the stalled rush of progress — the British night mail trains.

Night train that turned post into poetry makes its final delivery – Home News, UK – The Independent:

The ‘Night Mail’, the train that W H Auden and T S Eliot made famous in rhyme, and the 1963 Great Train Robbers made famous in crime, is being replaced by a much less romantic means of getting letters from one end of the country to the other:lorries.

The trains, officially known as travelling post offices (TPOs), had specially-constructed carriages that allowed post to be sorted on the way. They first ran in 1838, but they have gradually been replaced in recent years, and now the last 10 trains are being axed in a cost-cutting plan to save Royal Mail �10m a year. A Royal Mail spokesman said yesterday: ‘Travelling sorting offices were a Victorian solution to a Victorian problem …, before the era of motorways and air travel. Like mail coaches before them, TPOs are now part of the Royal Mail’s history.’

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