There was a backlog of 383 000 driving licence cards as at December 1 because of a breakdown of the driving licence card-producing machine.
The Department of Transport (DoT) only expects the machine to be repaired to full functionality by the end of the month, which means this backlog will increase still further.
The DoT has also confirmed that the breakdown in the machine occurred on November 7 – 17 days earlier than previously reported.
Moneyweb reported on Wednesday that there had been a breakdown in the machine from November 24.
This was based on two letters signed by Sandiso Thutshini, acting head of the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA) entity, that were sent to Driving Licence Test Centre (DLTC) managers to advise them about the card machine breakdown.
The first letter, dated November 25, stated that “there is currently a backlog of driving licence cards due to the breakdown of the ailing production machine” and that the DLCA was “attending to this matter.”
The second letter, dated December 9, added: “The challenge with the breakdown in the production machine is still not resolved. The DLCA understands the frustration created by this situation and the team is working hard to resolve this issue.”
The DoT was unable to respond to a list of questions in time for its response to be included in Moneyweb’s first article on the machine breakdown.
In a response received on Wednesday night, it said the DLCA had experienced a breakdown of the card-producing machine and that “stakeholders have been informed accordingly”.
The DoT claimed a media statement “was also disseminated to this effect”.
Moneyweb is unaware of any media statement that was released related to the machine breakdown and has been unable to locate any media statement on the issue on the DoT’s website.
The DoT in its response to Moneyweb added: “The machine breakdown occurred on November 7 2021 and the team is hard at work to address the problem.
“The breakdown was hardly due to lack of maintenance since the last routine maintenance was conducted as recently as October 2021.
“The breakdown occurred as a result of flooding, from an adjacent building at the production facility. This led to an electrical surge resulting in damage to the machine,” said the DoT.
“The team is doing everything possible to restore the machine to full functionality before December 31 2021.”
The DoT further noted that:
The machine was installed “quite a number of years ago”;
It is the only machine that produces driving licence cards in South Africa;
It was imported from France; and
It was procured at a market-related price at the time through an open tender process.
As to how it plans to manage the reduction in the backlog, the DoT said: “As at December 1, there is a backlog of 383 000 cards and the DLCA has the capacity to produce around 300 thousand [300 000] cards in a period of a month.
“This gives the DLCA the comfort that the backlog will be cleared as quickly as possible once the machine is back in full operation. The DLCA will implement shifts and overtime work in order to address the current backlog being experienced,” it said.
It appears the backlog referred to by the DoT relates only to the driving licence cards that could not be produced because of the machine breakdown; it does not seem to include the backlog in the renewal and issuing of licences caused by the hard Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March 2020.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula confirmed in August that nationally 42.4% or 1.2 million licences had not yet been renewed out of a total of 2.8 million licences that have expired since March 26, 2020.
Reacting to the chaos at DLTCs and the inability of motorists to obtain online bookings to renew their driving licences,
- Mbalula at the same time announced a further extension to the validity period of driving licences that expired during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
In terms of the extension, all learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expired during the period that commenced from March 26 2020 up to and including August 31 2021 “are deemed to be valid and their validity periods are extended for a further grace period ending on March 31 2022”.
Mbalula further announced a raft of measures to reduce the driving licence renewal backlog, including opening two DLTCs operated by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), which were to operate seven days a week from 7am until 9pm and add 35 380 renewal slots per month and increase Gauteng capacity for renewal slots by 48%.
‘Wrong and unfair’
The Automobile Association and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) have been outspoken in their criticism of how the breakdown of the machine has been managed and the lack of information provided to the public.
The organisations believe a further extension to the validity of driving licences will be necessary because of the increase in the backlog and that it is wrong and unfair to expect motorists who have applied in good time to renew their driving licence to have to pay for a temporary licence.
The DoT’s specific comments about the maintenance of the machine are a response to criticism by Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage that the breakdown of the machine highlights the government’s mentality about maintenance and contingency plans.
“They are always fighting fires and they don’t maintain properly right down to roads and equipment,” he said.