Lowdown on goings-on at mail centre

Outside the Tshwane Mail Centre in Kgosi Mampuru Street.Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Outside the Tshwane Mail Centre in Kgosi Mampuru Street.Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 24, 2018


A TOUR through the gigantic, 146-year-old Tshwane Mail Centre last week revealed the hidden treasures within, and during a three-hour walk through the blue-roofed building on Kgosi Mampuru street, the Pretoria News saw scores of workers go through local, national and international inward and outbound mail.

Staff were only proud to showcase how, daily, mail was processed and sorted to the Pretoria News, and they sought to bring to light what the faceless people behind accuracy and timing go through each day so people get their mail. And on time.

Established in Kromdraai in 1872, the centre moved to the current premises in 1988, and the one-floored building is an imposing 1537915m², houses 381 workers and deals with tons and tons of letters and big and small packages.

The question on what happens to mail before it reached the post box or was delivered at one’s doorstep was answered: it is not like WhatsApp messages that go through in an instant after pressing the send button.

Tour guide George Mahlangu said the process began very early in the morning, every single day as packages came in from national mailing hubs.

The first truck to deliver its load comes all the way from the Cape Town hub at 2am, and then others from across South Africa arrive. The process of sorting mail begins at 6am, when mail is distributed according to sections; it is sorted according to size - big on one side and small on another; machinable mail goes to the machines; and what needs to be hand-sorted is put into its own section.

Then the next shift starts; with staff coming in at 8am sorting the mail according to their destinations.

“Despite that this place is always busy, the centre has gone down from receiving an estimated 1.5million packages of mail to a disappointing 240000 a day,” Mahlangu said.

A room of coders fills a room with faces pressed to their computers, and they do not let a word slip out of their mouths.

The coder’s work is to correct those letters with incorrect codes.

Another interesting room was the hybrid mail room, where mail was received electronically and printed; a highly confidential room, where even the dreaded e-toll mail was printed, including payslips.

Mahlangu said the centre never ran out of funny moments: “Just recently a woman hysterically called the archives room to enquire about a wedding dress bought online a few days before her wedding, we went through piles of parcels until we found it.”

But, he said, they witnessed weird things being mailed such as high volumes of meat, especially during the festive season.

“One fateful day a man called the archives room to enquire about a parcel coming from overseas, but when the lady working there went out to the man at the front to hear his story he pulled a gun on her.”

Luckily security, which is always on high alert, kicked in and the gunman was apprehended.

Process supervisor Mandla Mahlangu from Soshanguve has been working for the Post Office for 22 years, and he stood ready at one of the mail sorting machines to collect mail. They can process mail on a dematic postal system, which processes approximately 27000 pieces of mail per hour, and even more!

Mahlangu said the previous year he worked in a section where he dealt with Pretoria mail only, and that made him aware of the many places in the city.

“Even the weird street names were interesting. I processed a lot of mail in that section, I fell in love with a lot of places without being there I love my job, we might be behind the scenes but I tell you we do a lot for people,” he said.

Thandi Kwhasha from Mamelodi, was among those hand-processing and sorting mail going to Centurion, and she worked silently with her earphones plugged to her ears as she listened to her daily dose of news.

She said: “Processing mail is just not another job, it’s interesting. I have been here for 11 years and it's different daily. I have been working with good people, we have built strong friendships.”

Handwritten mail was scarce in the centre, many of the workers said, but as the mailing world evolves so does the old system of snail mail.

They are taking on the faster and more involved area of shipping, and are ready every day to dispatch and receive parcels of all kinds destined for the local and international communities.

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