Bribe to be legal: Gauteng licence renewers resort to crime as deadline looms

The province's eNaTIS system is under heavy strain and people are even choosing new modes of transport so they don't have to drive illegally. But Transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo says the structure works.

A general view of a South African driver's licence. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - As the deadline hovers for motorists to renew their expired drivers' licences, some people in Gauteng are resorting to desperate and illegal measures in order to access the Department of Transport's online booking system.

In all likelihood, thousands of panicked drivers will not meet the 31 August 2021 deadline to renew their lapsed documents, which was already pushed back by months because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Many described their frustration at not being able to secure a booking on the eNaTIS system, being allocated slots in far out areas and being met with nonchalance from officials when seeking assistance. Many logged into the eNaTIS website day and night to snatch a time slot, as suggested by the Road Traffic Management Corporation. Some are now bribing their way through the system.

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The transition to the online booking system was intended to make motor licence disc and driver's licence renewals more efficient and cut down on corruption, but for the most part it has left both those in charge and motorists scratching their heads. The 40 driver's licence testing centres in Gauteng are meant to service thousands of motorists who are racing against time to renew their cards and discs.

Heading towards the entrance of the Randburg Licence Testing Centre, within minutes, a man approached Eyewitness News from the parking lot, promising to help with whatever service was needed.

It’s a bold move, seeing that the civic centre is swarming with Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers and members of the South African Police Service. The man was not perturbed in the least.

But he, and others like him, know that someone will need his help, like a 62-year-man who told Eyewitness News that criminals in the parking lot were a far easier option for him than spending hours trying to secure a slot online or face long queues caused by limited staff and resources.

He claimed that he battled for six months to renew his driver's licence. His name has been withheld.

"Some guy in the car park came up to me and said that he will sort it out for me and it will be R300 and it will be another R100 when he gets the licence and he will phone me when he has the licence. I've used these guys before successfully," he explained.

"Half the people here, I've realised, used a third-party firm to book the bookings. there's clearly corruption here because those guys are then coming on, taking all the time slots well before the man on the street can or understand the processes."

The daily queues to get help at the centre are long. Those who were desperate chanced a walk-in last week without an appointment, hoping to secure a booking. They explained their predicament, but the security guard manning the door, insisted the office only accepted online appointments.

Those who weren't winning with the eNaTIS system said it bred fertile ground for bribery where there is already corruption and the crisis getting worse because of third-party agents.

Gauteng Transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo acknowledged the glaring gaps in the system to Eyewitness News and said a forensic investigation was under way to look into the exploitation. He said outdated technology and a lack of capacity at testing centres were to blame for difficulties people went through trying to renew their licences, adding that since January, at least 500,000 licences were registered and issued.

"Was the technology prematurely introduced? Perhaps but with COVID-19, the technology has proven to be correct, so to that extent, we must build more so that we can have more capacity for slots."

Mamabolo maintained that the system was working. But with a few days left to the deadline, this doesn’t provide much comfort to those who could face penalties for driving with non-renewed licences.

The Automobile Association’s Layton Beard said issues logging into and working with eNaTIS was a years-long problem, adding that an overhaul of the entire system was required.

"The private sector must be roped in to assist and all current systems must be replaced. Failure to implement even one of the recommendations will result in continued poor service to the motoring public."

Another driver who asked not to be named said after numerous attempts, he finally managed to secure a booking but was turned away on his allocated day because of a COVID-19 scare and was told to repeat the booking process.

"The queue was so long because there was Friday's people, Saturday's people and Monday's people all in one queue. There are so many easy processes that are going to make this process more simple because this tells me that I want it improved. They don't want to improve it."

Another motorist said: "You want to obey the rules and not do what's wrong and you can see people who are jumping the queues and then get to go within 10 minutes, they get assisted, and it's so sad to see because it's a perpetuation of the corruption in this country."

Mduduzi Mkhize made the long commute from Pretoria to the Kagiso Licensing Centre on Gauteng’s west rand to apply for a motorbike learners licence. He has to ride a motorbike until he can renew his driver's licence.

"How am I going to renew my driver's licence? The licence expired."

Yuseff Bardien, however, counted himself as lucky. His online booking experience was seamless.

"It was very good, I didn't have a problem at all. It took me 20 minutes and my work was done here. I'm really impressed with this centre."

During a recent visit to the Kagiso testing centre, Eyewitness News found out that out of the six booths that were meant to process eye tests and fingerprints for drivers, two were not operating because equipment was not delivered. Another two machines were broken and were not repaired because the models were no longer being manufactured, while the remaining two were not fully functional.

Mamabolo went to the facility on Friday and said there was a “fragmentation” of services across municipalities, provincial and national government, of which testing centres were not in control.

"In the front office, you have the province running ITCs. Municipalities are running 34. At national, RTMC is running the online booking system. The machine is sitting with DLTC. We need one centre."

Mamabolo also said that licence cardholders who secured bookings but did not honour the appointments were making the situation worse.

There is no indication as yet about whether another extension will be granted but operating hours in Johannesburg have been extended to try and accommodate the influx of applications.

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