Just how infected are South African driver’s licence testing stations with bribery and corruption? As it turns out, very.
I have a friend named Paul (not his real name), who after literally years of struggling to get his Class C1 (old Code 10) driver’s licence the legitimate way, decided to enter the system through the side door and pay every bribe necessary to get the job done. Here is his story.
A VERY EXPERIENCED DRIVER
Paul is a licensed driver and has been for around 20 years, but wanted to upgrade to a Code 10 licence in order to legally drive vehicles that weigh over 3500kg. Many South Africans start with this classification, as it is well known for being an easier test to pass, much more open to bribery, and also authorises driving of Class B (old Code 8) normal passenger cars.
Paul says that at the many driving school practice yards he visited, it was plain to see the amount of young women learning to drive in hundreds of hired flatbed trucks there.
He didn’t dispute the legitimacy of young women whose jobs may require heavy vehicle operation, but it was his impression that the majority were there to shortcut the system.
The first step in upgrading from a normal Class B (old Code 8) to a Code 10 licence, is to book a date for a written learner’s licence test. This is where Paul had his first brush with corruption. The officials who make these bookings will go out of their way to make it difficult to do so, because they work in cahoots with the driving schools who can easily be found loitering outside any testing station.
Paul was actually told that if he wanted to make a booking himself, he would need to come at 4.30am on a Thursday and queue, but there was no guarantee he would get a date because there is a certain quota per day, and once filled, the windows are closed and people are turned away. But, if he paid one of the guys lurking outside R600 he could secure a date at any time, and for a date much sooner than otherwise possible. So Paul paid.
It gets worse from here. For another R1 500, Paul was guaranteed a passing mark. On the day of his test, the 30 or so learners were crowded around outside the exam room waiting to be called in. The doors opened, and the officials called a few names one by one and were told where to sit. These few names were the people who had paid the bribe. On Paul’s day there were around five.
At these five seats, were pre-placed test booklets. The booklets looked like they were printed decades ago, and were well worn with food stains, smudges and tears.
This makes them easily manipulated and, if pre-arranged, are marked with tiny pencil marks next to the correct answers. Paul says a test conductor quietly pointed out the pencil marks to him during the test, and he passed with a 100 percent score.
With learner licence in hand it was now possible to book an actual Code 10 driving test, but here he was met with the same corrupt scam as before.
Booking on his own was impossible, but for R600 he could get a date via a driving school, and again for much sooner than otherwise possible. The crooked contact told him that legitimate bookings (where possible) were set for almost five months later. After paying the requested fee, Paul’s date was set for a week later.
He was also offered a guarantee pass in the practical driving test for another R2000, but declined because he was confident he could pass easily as he had been driving for so many years. The test is almost identical to that for normal passenger cars, except for a few more vehicle checks and a much easier alley-docking park test.
However, this is where Paul fears the system is most corrupt, because he believes he was guaranteed to fail for not paying the bribe.
Having not taken up the R2000 offer, he failed the driving test within two minutes. The test administrator, who walked alongside Paul’s hired truck (another R700 fee) in the yard, while constantly typing messages into his Blackberry, cited him for not observing each of eight mirrors and blind spots necessary at each stop.
Paul believes he had, and wondered how the test administrator could have seen what he was doing with his head buried in his phone.
Either way he had failed the test. Another R600 for another test date, and R2000 for a guaranteed pass, and he was back in the same yard two weeks later. Paul wasn’t sure where the cash actually exchanged hands, because he gave the money (called “cheese” between bribers and bribees) to his driving school connection, who may have handed the money over to the tester after hours. These testers are only allowed to conduct seven tests per day, which could mean up to R14 000 cash, daily.
This time the tester, again focussed fully on his phone, waved Paul through each obstacle in the yard without penalty. He proceeded out onto the road, tester on board (without his seatbelt buckled), where now his attention was turned from his phone to female pedestrians who received loud and obnoxious cat calls from the passenger window of the truck he had again hired for R700. There was little to no interest in how he operated the truck.
Paul passed the test and now has his Code 10 driver’s licence. But at a cost of around R6100. Paul believes he is more than qualified to have passed all the tests with flying colours, without bribes, but says the system is so vrot with corruption it was his only choice. --Star Motoring