Hundreds of thousands of South African motorists will be stuck with expired driving licence cards in the early months of 2022 because the twenty-year-old machine that prints them all has been out of order since November.
Reports of the machine’s breakdown first came from Moneyweb in mid-December, which received two letters addressed to Driving Licence Test Centre managers about the issue.
The machine was reportedly damaged by an electrical short after a building adjacent to its location was flooded.
Rapport has confirmed with a Department of Transport spokesperson that the machine was still broken down.
At the beginning of December, 383,000 pending licence cards had not been printed due to the breakdown. That backlog has now grown by another month of expirations.
According to Rapport, the transport department failed to listen to warnings from the DA years ago that the machine was on its last legs and there was no backup plan should it fail.
To make matters worse, it is now offloading its failures onto motorists and wants those impacted to cough up R90 for a temporary driving permit.
Robert Chandler, head of the Southern African Institute of Driving Instructors, said at least half a million motorists would be impacted by the breakdown, which means the department stood to collect around R45 million from these temporary permits.
Motorists have struggled to secure renewal appointments for their licence cards using the department’s online booking system.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the backlog, but transport minister Fikile Mbalula has also blamed corruption and old technology for the problems.
As a result, the department extended the validity period of learner’s licences, driver’s licence cards, temporary driving permits, and professional driving permits that expired between 26 March 2020 and 31 August 2021 to 31 March 2022.
However, motorists whose licence cards expired from 1 September 2021 onwards did not get the same reprieve.
That is despite the fact that they are also impacted by the backlog of motorists who are now allowed to renew their cards within the same timeframe.
Mbalula previously promised a new smart licence card that complied with international standards would be ready by the end of the year and would help to solve the production problems of current licences.
In December, however, the minister backtracked and said plans for the new card would only be presented to Cabinet in early 2022.
Several organisations told Rapport that another extension of driver’s licence card validity periods would be needed because the machine was still offline.
However, Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage previously told MyBroadband that the extensions were ineffective in solving the backlog.
“How these extensions have been provided has the impact of a concertina-ed effect that causes a rush at the new deadline, which includes many months of expiry dates crammed into one month,” Duvenhage said.
“What the authorities needed to do is to provide a blanket extension of all driver’s licenses, for a period of 6 months, thereby keeping the monthly pressure on the licensing offices constant, while they resolve their administrative and corruption issues,” he said.
Outa has proposed the best solution would be extending the validity period of all driver’s licence cards from five to 10 years, as was the standard practice in many other countries.
Duvenage noted this exact change was approved in a government gazette in November 2012 published by then Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters.
However, the decision was reversed before the changes could be promulgated in October of 2013.