System is Down. Come Again Tomorrow. Adventures at the Cape Town DMV – Cape Town, South Africa

System is Down. Come Again Tomorrow. Adventures at the Cape Town DMV

Cape Town, South Africa

As a Canadian, I am very experienced at bitching about the government. Canadians LOVE to bitch about the government – Tim Horton’s (our national coffee and donut provider) would probably not be the success it is today without my people’s obsession with sitting over a cuppa and a chocolate dip discussing everything political and how to solve its inefficiencies. I thought that nothing could POSSIBLY be as inefficient as Canadian government offices.

Until I came to South Africa.

I have lived in Cape Town for almost a year now. I arrived last September glowing with love over my South African boyfriend who now is my husband. And, save for a shockingly short line at the Home Affairs office to file my temporary resident papers, I have had little interaction with Thabo Mbeki’s regime.

Until Peter’s driver’s license expired.

No big deal, right? You just go to the Driver’s License place and pay your fees and leave, right?


In principle, the above is true. One SHOULD walk in, pay their hundred rand (about $20.00) and walk out a legally licensed driver. Peter and I were in a rush to get other things done and had slotted an hour to complete this particular errand as his license officially expired three days later.

Pride before the fall.

The first office we went to was extremely efficient, or, at least it appeared so on the surface. We were greeted in a friendly manner, Peter filled out his paperwork, did his eye test, got new photos taken at the nearby pharmacy and walked up to the counter to pay. Suddenly, a hastily scribbed sign was plastered on the window:

“System is down. Come again later.”

Oh well, excuse to have breakfast. We found a newspaper and a cosy cafe, ate, and come back an hour later.

The doors were closed. “System is down. Come again tomorrow.”

No panic. We still had two days. It can’t be that hard.

Fast forward to the next morning. Another trip to the friendly folks at the Driver’s License office.

“System is down. Come again tomorrow.”


We were redirected to another branch in a nearby town. Naturally, all of the folks who had come to the “System is down. Come again tomorrow” branch were already lined up. I knew we were in for something when there was a sign taped to the window which stated “You Want It When???” under which was depicted numerous cartoon characters in different states of hysterical, thigh slapping, side-clutching, Oh-my-God-you-are-hilarious laughter. An enormous African woman was presiding over the affairs and, judging by the raucous personal call she was conducting in Xhosa (an African language), I gathered she probably wasn’t going to give two hoots that Peter and I had other business to attend to that morning. We would get his license when she damned well pleased.

After being sent to several different lines that led nowhere, there we were, in front of her majesty herself, who was still on her personal call. We had obviously interrupted a particularly juicy piece of gossip as she rolled her eyes, pffted at us, and grudgingly took Peter’s paperwork. Hurriedly she stamped and typed and handed us an official-looking document.

“140 Rand please. Go stand there.”

Ummmm, it was 100 rand at the “System is down. Come again tommorrow” branch. But, neither Peter and I were in the mood to argue. “Skimming off the top” has been well documented in offices such as this, and, considering that Peter would be arrested the next day if he was pulled over without that precious receipt this harpy held in her hand, we were not in a position to argue.

So, we went and stood there with several other disgruntled citizens. A long bitch fest took place amoungst us about the gross inefficiencies of the South African government. Ahh, just like home. Except now I was beginning to realize what a good thing I had when I had it.

Finally, our turn. Peter was fingerprinted and the man presiding over this particular section of the process asked him for another photo.

Okay. At the “System is Down. Come again tomorrow” branch, Peter had taken his pictures, and they had pasted them to an official looking document. We had no more pictures.

Sigh. Back to a pharmacy for more ID pictures.

Back again. The harpy was still there, but, shockingly, off the phone. Lunch was in two minutes. We had to act fast as the office would close up tighter than a rodeo queen’s Levis at noon sharp. We triumphantly presented Peter’s photos. Peter mentioned that he was only renewing his license and casually remarked that it only cost 100 rand at the other office.

“Oh,” the man said. “This is a renewal? You don’t need this.”


Sheepishly, they refunded the extra 40 rand. I gave my best “Take that, bitch” glare at the harpy behind the window.

So, yes, in priciple, you should be able to walk into the driver’s license place, pay your 100 rand and walk out a legally licensed driver.

It only took us 36 hours, two branches, six ID photos, a broken system and one harpy to do it.

Oh, and Peter’s new licence will arrive in eight to ten weeks.

I’ll never bitch about the Canadian government again.

Filed under: 170
Tags: , ,