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SAPO fails to deliver books to the visually impaired

DESPITE numerous inquiries and complaints to the South African Post Office made by visually impaired residents in Uitenhage after not receiving audio and braille books on time, they were still unable to get feedback about when they will receive books again.

According to frustrated Uitenhage resident Egmund Claassens, approximately 400 visually disabled people in the Nelson Mandela Bay area are supposed to receive audio and braille books from the South African Library for the Blind in Grahamstown on a weekly basis but they are lucky if they receive one book a month from the Grahamstown library.

Claassens who lost his eyesight in a fire 20 years ago, said when he called the library in Grahamstown, they attributed the shortage of books to people not returning their books.

According to a document sent to Claassens by the library in Grahamstown, 20 books that are supposed to be returned, are still outstanding.

He, however said, he has returned all his books on time, but nobody knows where the outstanding books are.

The audio book lover further said the Post Office has not been consistent with their deliveries and that the mail centre and transport division blame each other for the missing books.

Claassens, who enjoys listening to a variety of audio books as well as magazines such as the Huisgenoot and Sarie when he is awake in the early hours of the morning, said he is waiting for 18 books from the library in Grahamstown.

He said, after losing his eyesight he was medically boarded from his position as a senior administrator at Transnet and went through a difficult time which led him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

“Drinking helped me forget about my troubles, but then I realised that I had to stop because in the morning I was still left with the same problem,” Claassens said.

Claassens often visits people who suddenly lost their eyesight to motivate them and teach them how to do everyday activities such as buttering bread, eating and how to walk with a sighted person.

Apart from listening to audio books and counselling blind people, Claassens builds cupboards, cuts his own grass and climbs on to his roof to check whether all the tiles are in good condition.

“I want visually impaired people to know that they can have a normal life,” Claassens said.

Director of South African Library for the Blind in Grahamstown, Francois Hendrikz said the library is fully functional and there is no shortage of books.

“We are a national library that serves 9000 blind members across South Africa so we cannot have a shortage of books,” Hendrikz said.

The library which provides books in 11 official languages, holds more than 30 000 audio and braille titles, seven national and provincial newspapers and 15 different magazines.

He further said for the past two years the SAPO has been failing the library and its members as books were not delivered on time and in some cases were not delivered at all.

“This is a problem with specific Post Offices in certain areas. Members should follow up with their local Post Offices because it is difficult for us to track down books. Local Post Offices should be able to confirm where the books are.

“The library is currently looking for alternative options after the SAPO response was that they were unable to find a solution because it was a national problem.

“Most of the reading material will be available online by the end of the year, but most members do not have access to a computer or internet connection,” Hendrikz said.

He also mentioned that some members have opted rather to make use of courier services instead, at an extra cost, but he is aware that not everybody can afford it. Each member received a maximum of 20 books.

Questions sent to SAPO spokesperson Martie Gilchrist were unanswered at the time of going to print.

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