The Minister of Transport’s refusal to extend the validity period for vehicle licences in South Africa will lead to dangerous queues and severe backlogs at licensing centres in South Africa. This is according to Justice Project South Africa chairperson Howard Dembovsky, who said that licensing departments are under severe strain across the country.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula extended the validity of expired learner, driver’s licences, and professional driving permits until 31 August 2021, although vehicle licences were not included in this extension. When asked about the effect of the omission of vehicle licences from this renewal, Dembovsky said that motorists should expect longer queues and processing times.
“All the registering authorities in the country are under severe strain because of the size of South Africa’s vehicle fleet and because registering authorities have not kept pace with staffing to service demand,” he said.
“They do not care how long anyone spends in a queue. Motorists can expect longer than usual queues.”
This poses an additional risk of exposure to COVID-19 for those motorists who are now forced to renew their licences that expired following the initial hard lockdown in South Africa.
“Under ordinary circumstances, the queues at registering authorities are long, particularly towards the end of each month,” Dembovsky said.
“After the public finds out that the Minister has misled them into believing that the validity period of their expired licence discs had also been extended, the queues will be longer,” he said.
He referred to a now-deleted tweet from the Minister which falsely stated that vehicle licences were included in the list of documents that had their validity extended until 31 August 2021. This is not the case, however, as the government gazette detailing the extension excludes vehicle licences.
Dembovsky added that South Africans should not labour under the impression that Mbalula’s initial extension of driver’s licence validity periods during the hard lockdown was an act of benevolence. “No-one could renew their licence discs, driving licenses or professional driving permits because all the registering authorities and driving licence testing centres were closed during the hard lockdown,” he said. “Had he not done it, there would have been a revolt.”
He said the extension period granted for vehicle licences was woefully insufficient because as soon as they reopened, many registering authorities were shut again because of COVID-19 outbreaks. “It also did not consider that the backlog which was created and could not possibly be cleared, while simultaneously servicing the ordinarily high monthly demand,” Dembovsky said.
Dembovsky said extending the validity of driving licences would be the right thing to do, but noted it would have a huge knock-on effect on municipalities and provincial governments that rely heavily on vehicle licensing taxes to bolster their budgets.