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Despite calls for the deadline to be extended, Mbalula stands firm. Picture: SUPPLIED
Despite calls for the deadline to be extended, Mbalula stands firm. Picture: SUPPLIED

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says the grace period to renew expired driving licence cards will not be extended beyond the end of March despite protests at driving licence testing centres (DLTCs) causing further backlogs.

Some Gauteng DLTCs have been forced to close or had their services disrupted in the past week by driving schools protesting against changes in the online booking system.

The protests are the latest crisis affecting renewal of driving licence cards after the closure of DLTCs due to Covid-19, faulty equipment and systems, as well as corruption where officials sold online block bookings for bribes.

The backlog was worsened by the breakdown of the only machine able to print the cards, which is back in action after repairs overseas.

On Monday, Mbalula said at the Akasia DLTC in Pretoria — itself the scene of a protest as he addressed reporters —  that the government increased capacity at the Waterfall and Centurion centres and remains on track to clear the renewal backlog.

He said that more than 400,000 cards had been produced by February 25. The backlog, which relates only to those who lodged renewal applications, stands at 534,807.

In August, Mbalula extended the grace period for renewals to March 31 due to the backlog. All learner’s licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expired between March 26 2020 and August 31 2021 are deemed to be valid until the end of March.

Despite calls for the deadline to be extended, Mbalula stood firm.

“We are increasing our capacity, so the backlog will not be an issue. I am making a call for people to go out and renew their cards, because we won’t extend the grace period,” Mbalula told reporters while struggling to be heard over the protests of demonstrators outside.

Last week, the National Driving School Association of SA embarked on a protest after the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) introduced new features on the online licence booking system. The process meant that new drivers and motorists who use driving schools to secure slots quicker for a fee will no longer be able to do so as the system is stricter.

Driving schools complain that the online system has cut them out as middlemen and their clients are being taken away. Their protests closed or disrupted several Gauteng DLTCs over the past week, affecting the number of people who can renew or collect their cards.

Mbalula said he has engaged driving school workers on their concerns and will report back to them, but criticised protesters who used firearms to intimidate staff members at DLTCs.

“We will engage people who are not unruly and listen to their concerns. Everyone has a right to protest, but it should not be to the detriment of services to the people and disrupting DLTCs.”

A court interdict brought by the RTMC against the protesters failed to stop  disruption.

Motorists have also complained of problems with the online registration system at https://online.natis.gov.za, but Makhosini Msibi, CEO of the RTMC, says the system is functional and slots are available.

“The system was upgraded so that people can book from their homes. Those who do not have access to the internet can go to a DLTC kiosk for assistance and do not necessarily have to use a driving school to get a slot,” he said.

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