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Where are the Modern Used South African Stamps?

Two years ago I sold a small album of modern used South African stamps, 1995 - 2005, to an old boy who expressed delight at getting his hands on them. "It's really very difficult to get any of the new South African issues used," he said. "Mint is easier but used is almost impossible now. It was so much easier in the good old days of stamp collecting".

Today we have tons of unsaleable historic used South African State, Colony, Union and Republic stamps but almost no modern used stamps of the post-Apartheid democratic era. Why? The immediate answer is that in the past SAPO (South African Post Office) was well-managed, efficient and had a monopoly over postal services. Millions of letters were processed every month. It was profitable as a result. With letters the main means of personal communication, collecting stamps was easily done and it developed into a hugely popular hobby as a result.

Writing in 'Stamps South Africa', Dr Jim Findlay RDPSA says "a problem associated with the collapse of the postal system is that it is now extremely difficult to collect used modern South African stamps. Courier companies do not use stamps". (Food for Thought - Looking Back Over the Last 4 Years.) This unpatable fact will not provide philatelic succour to South African collectors. According to Dr Findlay, the problem began "with the uncompromising communist style trade union postal strike where the ‘workers’ destroyed their own customer base with a 5-month strike."

This long strike was between 'workers' and SAPO, an arm of the ANC government, one with socialist aspirations. The State allowed the strike to fester and poison SAPO to the point of decrepitude. Where Post Offices were open, stamps remained on sale but deliveries of letters were suspended, an utterly immoral response to its customer base. SAPO's slow response suggested it saw merit in the striker's actions. The effects linger. A recent email from the Bellville Philatelic Society about its auction says that it will "only use the Post Office if it is open"! Why should it be closed?

As a result, alternative postal system service providers sprang up. Before the strike there were two courier services between Johannesburg and Pretoria carrying legal and financial documents. At the conclusion of the strike there were 22 courier services catering to the general public. The strike resulted in no improvement in postal services to its customer base. According to Dr Findlay, "the SAPO is in shambles – new stamp issues are not made available on the advertised dates and are not available at the majority of post offices – mail delivery is non-existent because of a poor work ethic and theft – postal services to the public are almost totally ignored".

The delivery of letters and parcels is no longer SAPO's main income stream. "Money-generation in SAPO relies on the delivery of social grants and the issuing of motor car licences". It has now been announced that 210 Post Offices will be closed because they are not profitable. Presumably, if SAPO owns these premises, they will be sold or rented out, thereby raising money to pay its 'workers' who no longer work selling stamps and delivering mail. "Is there hope for SAPO recovering and giving the people a service similar to Europe, the UK or the USA?" asks Dr Findlay. "I am afraid" he says, "the answer is ‘No’". As a result,  it is now extremely difficult to collect used modern South African stamps.

This will come as no surprise to overseas collectors. Gone are the days when mail between South Africa and the UK and the Rest of the World was quick and efficient, a ready source of stamps. Today we email or text messages or if sending a document we use a courier. Nevertheless, if like me when you buy items of philately and postal history from South African dealers, and are in no hurry and are prepared to wait months for a letter's arrival in order to save the high cost of courier fares, you can begin to put together a small, collection of modern South African stamps.

No doubt, the SAPO still hopes to sell you near-worthless First Day Covers by standing order. Once a good idea, First Day Covers are rubbish as collectible items today. However, they are now your best way to acquire used SA stamps!

In an ideal world we would boycott the SAPO and let it stew in its own juices. Email, text and the Courier Guy are doing exactly that! As a South African postal historian I worry how our hobby will continue once stamps are no more. Perhaps the only thing keeping South African stamps going right now is their propaganda value to the ruling party, at this time the ANC. However, stamps have a cost associated with them. Costs in failing organisations are invariably cut. Does anyone know if the SAPO now produces more or less stamps than ten years ago?

Below are a few post-Apartheid used South African stamps that I have recently accumulated, some from dealers. Regarding the 'Year of the Rabbit' minisheet, there is 1998 40c Definitive stamp that shows a similar creature, 'the riverine rabbit'. It looks more like a hare!

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steveiow has reacted to this post.

Hello to all,I'm new here.

I do have a few covers up to 2016,and I mean a few;the latest are from P.E. and have International small letter stamps with a seabird on it-I can't be more specific than that because my latest catalogue is Gibbons 2014.

They were sent with model transfers in them from Zane at MAV decals.

I also have perhaps a dozen from 2004-14,like most people,I have zillions before those dates.


Hi Steve,

Welcome and thanks for the comment and confirmation of SAPO's sad decline as a purveyor of postage stamps.

Yes, getting sellers in SA to put stamps on packages they are sending to you is a good way to acquire modern used. However, when I buy material from Kenny Napier he cost-effectively often ships his UK sales by courier to his daughter over here and she posts them out individually. They sometimes arrive with GB stamps on them! Sometimes not! However, when Kenny and other dealers like Paul van Zeyl ship direct  by courier there's never a stamp to be seen.

It is seldom that you get the latest new stamps on a parcel from a UK dealer.  As all QE2 decimal stamps are legal tender, in the UK most stamp dealers use up old postage stamps, circa 1990s - 2000, etc., when they send their sales out. There's a lot of that sort of material around and it can be acquired quite cheaply. It used to be that these stamps sold for face value less 20% but many dealers are now left with sheets of GB that they cannot sell even at that price. Their solution is to use 20 year-old stamps to pay postage. This does not make Royal Mail any more profitable.

I recently bought a great item from Mark Bloxham which came as a prompt and efficient Special Delivery with a nice block of 8 London Olympics 2012 Gold Medal Winners postage stamps attached, none of which had been cancelled and all of which, I thought, could be peeled off.  They can't! I would like to sell the block but I doubt anyone will buy it for more than a pound. (It's on card. See below). The better solution would have been to peel them off and re-use them - they're worth £6.94, (about R140) - but they are firmly affixed. Is Royal Mail evolving in its fight for survival?

How do readers feel about re-using stamps that haven't been cancelled by the Post Office?

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I thought members might be amused / depressed / reassured to see the attached scan of a cover posted airmail on 12 February in the Cape, which arrived here in Devon this morning (1 December): about nine and a half months in transit ....

Depressed because it took so long, and because  its postmarks don't show anything of interest - the date-stamp on the stamps (CAPEMAIL, 2021-02-16) is four days after the date of posting, and doesn't show where the cover was posted, and there's no indication of where and how it was delayed and when it arrived.

Reassured because it did arrive.  I've been a bit irritated by sellers on Bidorbuy who either won't post overseas or insist on posting using a courier.  That might be reasonable for valuable stamps and covers, but makes no sense for run-of-the mill items - in this case a couple of star-punched fiscals, worth the R25 I paid for them, but not worth couriering.  Fortunately the seller was very willing to send them by ordinary mail;  I've now done this several times in the last year, and everything has finally arrived - nothing has disappeared.  Sellers, please take note  - you might get more bids if you were willing to post normally/cheaply, and you might be surprised at how many buyers would be willing to accept the risk.

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Bas, congratulations. This is a disgraceful new South African record for the time a letter takes to travel from the Cape to the UK. Nine and a half months! Incredible! Is there no honour and integrity left in SAPO? Shame, shame, shame on you, SAPO! How is it that wooden sailing ships were faster than the modern methods of transport you have at your disposal today? The truth is that this is NO service. The Victorians would be shocked. And the stamps you have received on the letter, only one can be called 'modern used'. On the plus side, assuming anyone in future collects modern SA stamps, this relatively rare modern used item of South African philately or piece of postal history will have a high catalogue value! :>) This really is an endangered specimen! A Woolly Mammoth would have delivered it faster!

I met a philatelist on Sunday who told me it was nonsense that modern SA stamps were hard to come by. I realise now that the problem was our differeing interpretations of what constitutes 'modern'.

For me modern South African postage stamps post date the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, typically from about the year 2000, the post-Mandela period when the ANC began to assert its authority and allow the 'workers' of SAPO (South African Post Office) to run down postal services.  The other philatelist's idea of modern was technically more correct, I guess. He meant material from the last 50 years ie. the Nationalist 'Republic' era which we have by the skipful. That kuk era of Apartheid (lekker for some but not for me) is gone and won't be coming back. 1994 was the end of an era that seems such a long time ago now. Still, I guess he was right if you accept that to be classified 'antique' an item must be over 100 years old. Anything less is modern. So, what does that make us philatelists? Somewhere in-between, perhaps 'vintage', like fine wine! Or an old 'chorrie', clapped out but still going. (Or is that spelled 'tjorrie'? Colloqial Afrikaans and or SA English for an old car, a wind-up 'banger' type of puddle-jumper!)


Lest I be accused of judging SAPO too harshly, the South African Philatelist (December 2021) reports that there will be "Five Changes .. Coming to Post Offices in South Africa - including Car Licence Renewals Via Mobile App". I include the article here for British and global readers who do not subscribe to the SA Philatelist yet. I really to do not see much in the coming changes to reduce my sense of negativity to SAPO. But you be the judge.

"The South African Post Office is working on several initiatives that will significantly expand its service offerings at branches across the country. These includes a new vehicle licensing feature, an expanded rollout of grant payment facilities, and an increased push into e-commerce. GRANTS: The South African Post Office is extending its relationship with retailers, which will allow South Africans to collect their grants from additional outlets. The Post Office currently allows South Africans to collect a R350 Social Relief of Distress grant (SRD grant) from its offices. It has extended the collection channel for SRD grants to Pick n Pay and Boxer super-markets.

“The partnership will soon be extended to more retail chains, including spaza shops so that beneficiaries can transact in their own communities and also boost the local economy”. These reduce queues at post offices and makes it easier to comply with social distancing requirements.

Vehicle Licences: The Post Office introduced a new mobile application at the end of October 2021 that will enable vehicle owners to renew licences via mobile phone. “The renewal and payment will be done using the app, and the motorist can then choose to collect the disc from any convenient post office or have it delivered to an address of his choice. The motor vehicle licence renewal service is currently available in all provinces except the Western Cape, where it will be introduced soon,” a Post Office spokesperson said.

More than three million motor vehicle licences were renewed at branches of the SA Post Office in the past financial year. Expanded partnership. In March this year, the Post Office and entered into a formal agreement where SAPO was  appointed the distributor of all items ordered through the platform. “ is now considering appointing the SA Post Office as a distribution hub for the Southern African region, a role that comes naturally to the South African postal entity. OR Tambo Airport is the point of entry for all airfreight into the region, and South Africa’s seaports are the points of entry for most surface freight from overseas.”

No more cash: The Post Office said it will introduce a cashless solution at all of its branches. “This will reduce the attractiveness of post offices to criminals as there has been a substantial increase in armed robberies and burglaries over the past two years.The South African Post Office also accepts cards as a payment method for all transactions at its branches to reduce cash levels and make payments convenient for its customers”.

Increased turnaround times: Together with the Universal Postal Union, the Post Office said it has introduced an improved tracking system for international items, including a single tracking code. Historically, international packages have had their own tracking number, with a different number assigned when the parcel is transferred to the South African Post Office. The number of international items on hand at the international sorting centre has been totally cleared, from 2.1 million items in April. “This was achieved by introducing an extra shift, installing additional computers to clear items and by managers who volunteered to work over  weekends to process mail. The drive to deliver all items on hand continues, and the South African Post Office is encouraging its customers to collect items from their local post office when they receive a collection notice in the  mail or an SMS,” the SAPO spokesperson said.

Does anyone see the contradiction in the last sentence? "The drive to deliver all items on hand continues" ...SAPO "is encouraging its customers to collect items from their local post office when they receive a collection notice in the  mail or an SMS.” This is not a delivery service! Sadly, this practice is increasingly common in the UK also.

Does this inspire you with confidence? If you want to comment on this to the South African Philatelist, email the Production Editor: