Warning over driving licence backlogs in South Africa as printing machine breaks down again

 ·20 Oct 2022

Update: The article has been updated with comment from the Department of Transport.

Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has called on transport minister Fikile Mbablula to urgently speed up the introduction of new driving licence cards in the country, after the only machine that prints the cards has broken down for the second time in less than year.

The party said that the process needs to be fast-tracked to avoid more backlogs and the risk of motorists being unable to renew their cards and fined.

This week, the Eastern Cape’s acting chief director for transport regulations, Xolisa Jakula, told MyBroadBand that the machine has been inoperational for more than two weeks.

Jakula added that there is an indication that processes are underway to ensure that t will be back up and running by the end of this week.

The DA said that when the machine stopped working in November 2021, it took two months for it to be prepared – creating a backlog of over 380,000 unrenewed licences.

“As it stands, the country’s license card machine is outdated and apparently the only one of its kind left.”

At the beginning of the year, Mbalula said that he would introduce a new card machine that is on par with the rest of the developed world and a new driving license card in October 2023.

In September, Cabinet approved the replacement of the current driving license card with one that has more secure design features and is in line with international standards.

The DA said that to reduce the risk of having to rely on one machine and a singular staff component to service the whole country, provinces should manage and administer the applications and issuing of new cards.

The eNatis system would coordinate information nationally on the central database system, but appointments, applications and issuing should be decentralized, said the party.

Speaking on the new card design, Mbalula said that the current driver’s licence card was introduced in 1998, and the production equipment was procured in the same year. The technology has become obsolete,” he said.

Mbalula said his department would show the changes to the driver’s licence card in a government gazette. He added that a new procurement process for the updated production infrastructure will begin in November.


Civil society groups such as the Automobile Association (AA) and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) have called for the renewal of driving license cards to be extended to every 10 years, not five.

Earlier this year, Mbalula said that the Road Traffic Management Corporation would compile a report on the proposal.

The report is apparently completed, and the minister is ready to approach parliament with proposals to re-look at the terms; however, no further details have been provided.

“I’ve got the report now, and I’m ready to go to cabinet with new proposals to probably re-look at the five years in terms of the driver’s licence,” the minister said in August.

Proposals made by civil society groups include:

  • That an extension for driver’s license renewal be applied from 5 to 10 years;
  • The extension from 5 to 10 years applies between the ages of 18 to 65 years;
  • That more efficient online application processes for DL renewals precede the actual renewal to allow for more effective service delivery and flow between appointment, eye test and licence delivery;
  • Multiple methods for DL renewal are made available through test centres and reputable service providers, i.e. stronger collaboration with neutral, third-party organizations such as the AA;
  • That current restrictions applicable to Professional Driver’s Permits either remain the same, or are possibly extended as well, but that this decision be based on more extensive research and the inclusion of input from bussing and tourism role players.

DoT response:

An update on the status of the machine was provided on Thursday (20 October), pointing to load shedding and routine maintenance as the cause for its shutdown.

In a statement, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said that the machine is operating at full steam and that the backlog has been cleared.

Mbalula noted, however, that as the machine continues operations, “glitches might be experienced at some point.”

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