Update on this story: DoT says flooding to blame for breakdown of driving licence card machine
South Africa’s motorists are set to face further driving licence renewal headaches.
This follows the breakdown since November 24 of “the ailing card production machine” that produces driving licence cards, which means no new driving licence cards have been produced for the past three weeks.
Two letters signed by Sandiso Thutshini, acting head of the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA) entity, were sent to Driving Licence Test Centre (DLTC) managers to advise them about the card machine breakdown.
This could result in the Department of Transport having to once again extend the validity period of driving licences that expired during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Both the Automobile Association (AA) and Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) on Tuesday indicated they believe a further extension to the validity of driving licences will be necessary.
Applicants to be ‘encouraged’ to get temporary licences
The first letter by Thutshini to DLTC managers dated November 25 with the subject line ‘Notice of Card Production Backlog’ said: “The DLCA hereby informs its stakeholders that there is currently a backlog of driving licence cards due to the breakdown of the ailing production machine. The DLCA is currently attending to this matter.
“In the meantime, the Driving Licence Test Centres (DLTCs) are requested to encourage applicants to apply for a temporary driving licence card.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused and thank the DLTCs for their continued support and understanding during this time.”
The second letter dated December 9 with the subject line ‘Update On Card Production Backlog’ said: “On 24 November 2021, the DLCA reported a card production backlog due to the breakdown of the ailing card production machine. 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.”
Moneyweb is in possession of a copy of both letters.
Moneyweb emailed the Department of Transport a list of questions on Monday related to the matter but it had not provided a response by the time this article was published.
Already sizeable backlog will worsen
The machine breakdown will worsen the already high backlog in the renewal and issuing of licences following the hard Covid-19 lockdown at the end of March 2020.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula confirmed in August this year that nationally 42.4% or 1.2 million licences had not been renewed out of a total of 2.8 million licences that have expired since March 26, 2020.
Mbalula in August also announced a further extension to the validity period of driving licences that expired during the Covid-19 lockdowns to the end of March 2022.
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 also announced a raft of measures to reduce the driving licence renewal backlog, including increasing DLTC capacity by opening two DLTCs operated by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), which were to operate seven days a week from 07:00 until 21:00 and add 35 380 renewal slots per month and increase Gauteng capacity for renewal slots by 48%.
The Department of Transport received a forewarning of the breakdown when the machine broke down in January 2020, resulting in a reported backlog of at least 124 000 driving licence cards countrywide.
DA MP and member of the transport portfolio committee Chris Hunsinger warned the department about the lack of a back-up plan during an oversight visit in 2019, according to a media report.
Hunsinger reportedly also said the machine should have been replaced years ago and the more than R640 million of the 2018/2019 transport budget that was not spent could have been used for it.
Maputla Makgatho of the DLCA was quoted at the time as stating in an interview with eNCA that the machine is more than 20 years old and the department will be issuing a tender to procure a new machine during the 2020/2021 financial year.
‘They are always fighting fires’
Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage said it is “pathetic” that motorists have not been notified about the problem and “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.
“If we had a customer-centric department, an announcement would have been made telling people what is happening if they hadn’t fixed it in the first couple of days and they realised it is going to take longer,” he said.
Duvenage said the breakdown of the machine also highlights 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.
Duvenage said the breakdown of the machine may result in a further extension to the validity of expired driving licences and add another dimension to the backlog problems at DLTCs.
Extension of licence validity likely
AA spokesperson Layton Beard said the breakdown of the machine and the further delays and driving licence backlogs it will cause are “extremely concerning”.
Beard does not see how the machine breakdown will not lead to an extension of the validity period of driving licences.
“You have a situation where the Minister of Transport said that the issues would be sorted by the end of March.
“They have opened up new testing centres, they have got a mobile testing centre, they have increased the operating hours of some of the DLTCs and they have made an effort to get through the paperwork.
“But many of these people will not be getting temporary licences because maybe they cannot afford them,” he said.
Beard also questioned how long temporary licences will last and how long it will take for the machine to be fixed.
“Is this problem going to lead to a five-week backlog, a six-week backlog, a six-month backlog? We don’t know.
“If it’s ailing, it’s problematic. That speaks to the broader issue the AA has said time and time again that you cannot repair an ailing system.
“You need to rip the existing system out and replace it with something efficient and something that works,” he said.
Beard was critical that there has not been any announcement about the problem, adding the department is showing “contempt for the public of South Africa”.
He said the machine breakdown needs to be seen in the context of the RTMC having a surplus of R262 billion in its 2020 financial year.
“Surely there could have been some funds to either improve or replace that ailing machine,” he said.
“You have to also ask where is that money going and why is that money not being used to subsidise temporary licences because of this issue.”