South Africa’s new driving licence cards will not launch by the end of March 2024, as former transport minister Fikile Mbalula first announced.
Current transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga recently told TopAuto that the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA) is still procuring the printer that will be used to make the new cards.
The department has advertised and withdrawn the tender for the printer on multiple occasions in the past few years.
According to Chikunga, the tender “should” be finalised before the end of the 2023 financial year, which falls on 31 March 2024.
Chikunga blamed several issues for delaying the finalisation of the printer’s tender.
“Delays in concluding this evaluation process have been occasioned mainly by the complex nature of this bid itself, coupled with the fact that the evaluation criteria also included a compulsory site inspection process as part of due diligence,” said the minister.
It is only after the finalisation of the tender that the procurement of the machine can begin.
Thereafter, the printer will likely first need to be put through a trial period to ensure it functions as intended and that the cards are of the desired quality.
If government sticks to its previous planned 4-month pilot schedule, the full rollout of the new licence cards can only begin sometime after September 2024.
That assumes the new card printer is installed in April 2024, within days or weeks of finalising the tender — a best-case scenario.
The cards require a new printer because they feature an updated design with support for more modern technologies to ensure they are aligned with international practices.
In addition to making the cards more robust against forgery, the DLCA has said the card issuing process would be re-engineered to allow for agility and focus on delivering services efficiently and quickly.
Mbalula announced towards the end of 2022 that South Africa would be phasing out its existing driving licence card by the end of March 2024.
The pilot to test the new cards was originally supposed to start in November 2023 and run until March 2024, after which no more old cards would have been printed.
The plan was then for the final day of validity for the current cards to fall on 31 March 2029.
However, the Department of Transport went quiet about the pilot towards the end of 2023, and ignored several queries from MyBroadband about the new cards.
Mbalula made his big promises about a new licence card after his department came under fire from frustrated motorists and civil society due to months-long backlogs in renewals.
At one point, there were around 1.3 million expired cards awaiting renewal.
While the issues were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, making it impossible for motorists to apply for new cards for several weeks in 2020, there had been reports of severe inefficiencies and corruption at Drivers Licence Testing Centres for years.
The frustration peaked when the country’s only twenty-year-old driving licence card printer broke down in November 2021 due to a power surge.
Since that two-month outage, it has suffered several shorter breakdowns, resulting in further delays in issuing cards.
Many organisations — including Afriforum, the Automobile Association of South Africa, and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse — have taken issue with the fact that the country has no backup in place for when the machine suffers problems.
The department has defended using a single printer as a security measure to combat fraudulent cards.
Critics have also criticised the relatively short validity period for licence cards, pointing out that many countries had eight or ten year validity periods.
When Mbalula announced the phasing out of the current driving licence cards, he said the validity period would be extended from five to eight years.