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Government goes quiet on South Africa’s new driver’s licence cards

South Africa’s new driver’s licence cards were supposed to launch before 31 March 2024.

In June last year, Department of Transport (DoT) spokesman Collen Msibi said that the entity brought forward its plans to introduce new licence cards to the country and that it intends to do so within the 2023/2024 financial year.

“We are quite confident that at the end of this financial year, we should be able to tell the nation that we do have a new card system,” said Msibi at the time.

Since then, however, there have been no updates from the DoT on these new cards, and they are similarly not yet in circulation.

The rollout of the new licence cards was supposed to be preceded by a four-month pilot project kicking off around November 2023, but this, too, did not happen.

TopAuto reached out to the DoT for comment on the delayed introduction of South Africa’s new driver’s licences, but it did not respond by the requested deadline.

A possible reason for this postponement could be that the DoT has yet to procure the new printing machines required for producing the upgraded cards.

In January, Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga revealed that the DoT has not awarded a tender for the new printer and that it plans to finalise the process before April.

“Delays in concluding this evaluation process have been occasioned mainly by the complex nature of this bid itself, coupled with the fact that the evaluation criteria also included a compulsory site inspection process as part of due diligence,” said the minister.

A new printer is necessary to produce the new cards as the ageing machine currently in use does not have the ability to do so.

With this in mind, we expect that an announcement on the enhanced driver’s licence cards will be made as soon as a new printer is acquired, which could happen as soon as this April, provided the DoT was able to follow its timeline of awarding the tender by the end of March.

Tender document showing South Africa’s new licence card

What to expect

The introduction of new cards is mainly meant to address issues including the prevalence of fraudulent licences and lengthy renewals.

As such, the upgraded cards will feature “smart card” technologies such as new watermarks and user biometrics that can store data and be channelled through multiple authentication systems, which makes them more resilient against criminal activities like illegal modifications and counterfeiting.

Furthermore, they will be compliant with the International Information Technology Personal Identification Compliant Driving Licence (ISO18013) standard and therefore be valid in countries outside South Africa.

These smart cards will also pave the way for the introduction of fully-digital driver’s licences, which road users will be able to access from their phones and should help to drastically cut down on the administrative process of physically queuing to get a new card.

ex-transport minister Fikile Mbalula with the current licence card printing machine.

The new printer should also improve turnaround times for licence cards in South Africa.

Minister Chikunga said the machine will be able to produce a card within five working days – nine days quicker than the current printer – which is a benefit that can be passed on to motorists.

Thankfully, this time around the DoT also won’t be relying on just one printer to manufacture licences for the entire nation.

“We will have new machines with backup, we’re not quite sure in terms of the configuration because it’s part of the tender process that is being undertaken at the moment, but indeed we’re going to have new modernised machines,” said the department’s Msibi.

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