Pretoria - Licensing services in the city ground to a halt on Tuesday, leaving motorists in the lurch.
Numerous motorists aired their frustration after being turned away from several of the city’s licensing departments, including Waltloo, Akasia and Centurion.
The Waltloo centre, east of the city, is unable to serve the public at the moment because its equipment has been stolen. In the north, the Akasia licensing department has come under fire from motorists, who said it was unreliable and its system constantly offline.
The Rayton licensing office closed for renovations earlier this year. It was expected to reopen after four months but that hasn’t happened. This planned refurbishment was necessary as the administrative tasks related to learner and driving licence testing are performed at the main municipal building which is separate from the testing centre.
This arrangement makes the management and control of these sensitive processes problematic. Once the renovations have been completed, both the licensing and testing services will be operating within the same complex, thus ensuring the safety and integrity of every document, as well as the optimal use of resources.
In addition, the renovation process will cater for the roll-out of new-generation technology, called Live Enrolment Units, meant to replace the current Live Capturing Units and the technology which has become redundant.
The only service rendered at the Rayton licensing office is the collection of driving licence cards which will be allowed to run to its natural conclusion.
'Packed to the rafters'
Thousands of motorists said they have had to turn to Centurion as an alternative. However, that office then became packed to the rafters with queues snaking for most of the morning and people eventually being sent away. While the department opened at 8am, people began lining up at about 6am hoping to be served early in the day. Some said they spent hours before they could be helped, while others gave up.
When the Pretoria News arrived at the Centurion centre, an official told a young couple who had arrived at about noon that they should return the next day because the offices were swamped with people and not everybody could be assisted.
“Make sure you are here by 5.30am if you want to be helped,” he told the pair.
Other motorists said they had arrived two hours before the centre opened at 8am, and six hours later they were still queuing outside. Chris Louw said he arrived at Centurion at 10am. The first group of customers only moved into the offices at 11am, he said.
“The line didn’t move at all for about an hour and a half," he said. "The service here is appalling.”
Louw, like many others, complained about the attitude displayed to customers by the staff.
“They send security guards, who we cannot even question, to relay messages.”
In May, Centurion, which has been the source of much unhappiness among motorists over the years, was offline for two weeks. At the time, lines stretched into the parking lot. People expressed fears at the unlikelihood of reaching the doors before the 3pm closing time.
The City blamed a vandalised substation which had led to a power failure. Another problem was a faulty Telkom line linked to the system.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and transport MEC Ismail Vadi previously visited the centre to get first-hand experience of problems experienced by the public daily.
At Akasia, Sfiso Mkhwanazi, from Soshanguve, said there was no sense of professionalism.
“You almost have to beg and grovel with the staff just to inquire if they are online on any given day," he said. "There are no notices and some members sit and bask in the sun while we wait in the queue.”
Another motorist said he took a day off work and still left empty-handed without being assisted.
At Waltloo, a motorist said it would be better if motorists were pardoned in the event that licensing departments were offline. Some at the centre said they went there from as early as 6am for the licence renewals and were disillusioned when officials referred them to different licensing departments.
An official at Waltloo said he had to turn away more than 80 people at the licensing department because there was no equipment since it had been stolen. He said it had been like that for the past two months.
“It is always the same every day," he said. "Hopeful motorist come early in the morning, only to be disappointed when they are referred elsewhere.”
The premises were almost deserted, with only a few people waiting. The halls, normally full of people, were empty. There were no notices informing people that there was no equipment.
A motorist said he had gone to the Silverton post office to renew licence discs and was not assisted because he had outstanding fines. These had to be paid at the licensing department first. He was far from impressed when he arrived at Waltloo to learn that he could not be helped there either.
'We have a problem'
Metro Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba acknowledged that there was a problem at Waltloo for licence renewals.
“This is the only licensing department that we are aware of that is not functional because computers were stolen. The rest, including Akasia, Bronkhorstspruit and Centurion, are fully functional,” he said. “We are working to restore the functionality of Waltloo speedily and apologise for the inconvenience.”
Mahamba said overcrowding at certain licensing departments could be caused during peak periods such as school holidays. Normally, the licensing departments in the city catered for about 200 people in a day, he said.