South African motorists could face further delays when renewing their driver’s licence card as the country’s only printing machine has broken down for the second time in less than a year.
This is according to the Eastern Cape’s acting chief director for transport regulations, Xolisa Jakula, who said efforts to return it to service by the end of the week are underway.
“The machine is reported to have not been working for two weeks now, and there is an indication that processes are underway to ensure that by the end of this week, it is operational,” Jakula told MyBroadband.
“We are expecting a further update tomorrow [Wednesday, 19 October 2022].”
MyBroadband asked the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the Department of Transport (DoT) for comment, but they had not responded by the time of publication.
A turnaround by the end of the week would be impressive. When the machine broke down in November 2021, it was out of commission until end-January.
Even accounting for the festive season, it took two months to repair the machine last time.
Initially, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said the machine was sent to Germany for repairs.
However, in February, the minister said it had never left South Africa.
Mbalula also said the machine is so old that it is the only one still operating anywhere in the world. Instead of taking responsibility for the issue, he insinuated that his administration inherited the problem.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage described Mbalula’s comments as disingenuous, considering he has been the transport minister since 30 May 2019.
“For the minister to say they are now dealing with the problem in the sixth administration and that they have inherited this problem is not true,” he said.
“This administration, with Mbalula in charge, has been in power for nearly three years.”
Outa also slammed the DoT’s failure to buy a new driver’s licence printing machine, despite generating more than R400 million from renewals over the last nine years.
Worse, the department had acknowledged the machine was run-down and needed to be replaced as far back as March 2021.
If South Africa had a second driver’s licence printing machine, the breakdown in November likely wouldn’t have resulted in a backlog of around 383,000 unrenewed licences less than a month later.
This further exacerbated the driving licence card renewal backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Automobile Association of South Africa spokesperson Layton Beard explained that the country only has one printing machine to avoid giving corrupt officials a gap to flood the country with fraudulent driver’s licences.
Beard said that despite the Department of Transport being proactive in rooting out corruption at Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs), problems still exist within its ranks.
“You don’t want to have a situation where the printing of licence cards is farmed out to the DLTCs,” stated Beard.
“You may find yourself in a worse position in terms of illegal driving license cards that are in circulation.”
Shortly after Mbalula confirmed that the machine was broken and being repaired overseas, he announced that South Africa would be getting a new driver’s licence printing machine and, with it, new driver’s licence cards.
Mbalula explained that the only hurdle to introducing the new driver’s licence cards was approval from the cabinet.
The minister is expected to publish the changes to the driving licence card in the government gazette.
“This will then enable us to commence with the procurement process for the new production infrastructure in October 2022. The new card will be piloted from 1 November 2023 until 31 March 2024,” Mbalula said.
He said the current driver’s licence card and printing machine will be decommissioned on 1 April 2024, adding that a five-year period of transition from the old card to the new one would follow.
“The current cards will continue to be recognised as valid licence cards until 31 March 2029,” the minister said.
There have also been calls to extend the validity period of South African driver’s licence cards to ten years, which Mbalula said he would consider.