Registering a Car in South Africa: An Expat’s Epic Journey (Part 2)

Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1.

As I was saying…I came full-circle.

I started my epic journey at the Randburg Licensing Department, at 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, only to learn that Randburg only accepts traffic register number applications on Wednesdays from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m. (I need to get a traffic register number before I can register my car.)

Thursday morning I went to the Langlaagte Licensing Department, only to learn that the power was out.

Friday morning I went to the Roodepoort Licensing Department, only to learn that traffic register number applications are closed until February at that office.

Which brings me back to Randburg.

Randburg Licensing Department. Wednesday, December 18.

I drag myself to Randburg at 7:45 a.m. the following Wednesday. The office doors are closed and a long line snakes through the courtyard. I make eye contact with a frustrated-looking guy in the line.

Me: What’s happening?

Frustrated guy: The office is closed. It’s supposedly opening at 9:30.

Me: Why?

Frustrated guy shakes his head. He doesn’t know.

I leave and go to the ATM. I get back at 8:00. The line hasn’t moved. I join it.

Randburg2

Randburg Licensing Department. Inexplicably closed.

I eventually learn, from the man behind me, that the office is closed because of a union meeting. Many of the other people in line were waiting here yesterday as well. Yesterday, “the system was down”.

We wait patiently until 9:30. (Actually not everyone waits patiently. Several people have given up and left, including the guy in front of me. All the better for the rest of us.) The doors open and the line moves quickly.

I reach the “Help Desk” before 10:00. There’s still time to apply for a traffic register number!

Me: Hi. I need to apply for a traffic register number.

Licensing lady: Sorry. Applications are closed until January 16th.

[Hahahahaha. Ha.]

Me: Why?

Licensing lady: The person who does that is on leave.

Me: Where should I go then?

Licensing lady: Where do you live?

Me: Melville.

Licensing lady: If you live in Melville you can’t get a traffic register number here anyway. You have to go to the office closest to your area. Which is Langlaagte.

The horror.

I really, really do not want to go back to Langlaagte. I would rather stab myself in the eye with an icepick.

I drive home, silently raging. I try to call Langlaagte, hoping (irrationally) that someone will pick up and tell me that the power is still out and there’s no point in coming. No answer.

Langlaagte Licensing Department. Wednesday, December 18.

I stall until about 1:00 p.m., then I drive to Langlaagte. I park and approach the metal jaws at the Langlaagte office entrance. The security guard rests his hand on the gate and looks at me expectantly. I must state my intentions before he will let me in.

Me: I need to apply for a traffic register number.

Security guard: No. Not today.

Me: WHY? This is my fifth time trying to do this.

Security guard: You must go to Roodepoort.

Me: I WENT to Roodepoort already. They told me to come here.

Security guard: Fine. Go in. You’ll see.

I march through the metal jaws and go to the “Help Desk”. The lady there looks nice. I plaster a smile onto my face.

Me: Hello, how are you?

Licensing lady (smiling): I’m fine.

Me: I need to apply for a traffic register number.

Licensing lady (no longer smiling, half-shouting): No. You must come on Tuesday or Thursday. And only in the morning!

South African vehicle licensing people, for whatever reason, really do not like to give out traffic register numbers. They will do anything in their power to thwart my efforts to get a traffic register number.

I become enraged and unmanageable. I babble angry nonsense. The licensing lady realizes that I am ready to fight her to the death.

Licensing lady: Please go to the back. Speak to the manager.

Me: Who is the manager?

Licensing lady: Welma.

I go to the back of the building and find Welma, sitting sullenly behind another dirty glass window.

Welma: Can I help you?

Me: I need to apply for a traffic register number.

Welma: Go to Window 11. Speak to Kagiso.

I see a sign next to Welma’s office that says: “Traffic Register Numbers: Tuesday and Thursday only, 7:30-10:00 a.m.” Today is Wednesday. Nonetheless, Welma has gotten my hopes up. Maybe Kagiso will help me.

I wander back out to the front, in search of Window 11.

Langlaagte1

The Langlaagte waiting area. Inside the belly of the beast.

Langlaagte2

Window 11.

I endure the pushing and shoving, willing my brain to pretend I am somewhere else. Finally, it is my turn.

Me: Hello, are you Kagiso?

Kagiso: Yes.

Me: Hi, Kagiso. I need to apply for a traffic register number.

Kagiso takes my papers and actually looks at them. This is progress — none of the other licensing people have bothered to look at my papers. I feel a spark of hope.

Kagiso: Come back on Tuesday.

[Ha.]

Me: Tuesday? That’s Christmas Eve. Are you sure you’ll be here?

[I don’t ask Kagiso why he can’t help me tomorrow, which is Thursday. Why bother?]

Kagiso: Yes, I’ll be here. Come before 10:00.

Me: Do I have all the right papers?

Kagiso (shuffling my papers): Yes.

Me: Okay. Thanks.

What are the odds that Kagiso will be here on Christmas Eve? My spark of hope is extinguished.

I trudge through the Langlaagte refugee camp, back to my cute new car. Actually, it’s not really my car yet. Not until I get a traffic register number. And let’s face it. I am never going to get a traffic register number. Like, ever.

To be continued.

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20 Comments

  • Reply Gary De Beer January 15, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    This whole affair is so deplorable and insane that it is bordering on funny.

    I don’t want to say that it is funny because it happened to you, but it almost like you were an unwilling participant in some elaborate Wackhead Simpson or Leon Schuster prank.

    I live in hope that this story does have a happy ending (eventually).

    • Reply 2summers January 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      It’s okay Gary, you are meant to laugh 🙂

  • Reply Sine January 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Hilarious. I remember getting to the point of these things happening to me in South Africa where I’d be HOPING there would be another idiotic twist, just because in my head I was already writing the corresponding hilarious blog post. OR, in fact, I’d be actually typing it into my iPhone. Thank GOD for blogs or we’d all go insane:-) Now I can’t wait for the happy ending.

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Yep. I don’t blog about this kind of stuff as often as you do. But in this case it was necessary and yes, I’m so glad it gave me a reason not to be 100% miserable during the process.

  • Reply cocoaupnorth January 15, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Congratulations on your car and I do hope you eventually win with registering it. I must say I love my country but the service in the public sector is appalling, I went through the same headache years ago and it’s disappointing to learn that things have not improved one bit. Good luck.

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:25 am

      Thanks! Things could always be worse 🙂

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough January 15, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Like you, I wouldn’t feel hopeful about Christmas eve. But then maybe that will be your biggest gift of the year! Looking forward to part 3.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

  • Reply Brandon January 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Now you will learn what us South Africans have been experiencing for years! Decades even!

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Yep. I’ve been lucky not to have too many experiences like this. But I know it’s inevitable. One of the prices we pay for living in this crazy country.

  • Reply Deb January 16, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I am an Aussie expat here in good ol SA and I feel your pain! And I write to give you hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am indeed, the proud owner of a Traffic Register Number!! Just keep plodding… and please keep sharing these expat experiences of SA life.

    There are many not-local challenges that are faced by expats (in all countries I assume), but if there’s one thing that’s going to make our experiences into wonderful adventures, it’s being able to keep a sense of humour about it 🙂

    I can’t wait to read your next instalment.

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Yes, absolutely. I should mention that motor vehicle licensing offices are a nightmare in America too. Although not quite THIS bad 🙂

  • Reply Deb January 16, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I am an Aussie expat here in good ol SA and I feel your pain! And I write to give you hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am indeed, the proud owner of a Traffic Register Number!! Just keep plodding… and please keep sharing these expat experiences of SA life.

    There are many not-local challenges that are faced by expats (in all countries I assume), but if there’s one thing that’s going to make our experiences into wonderful adventures, it’s being able to keep a sense of humour about it 🙂

    I can’t wait to read your next instalment.

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Yes, absolutely. I should mention that motor vehicle licensing offices are a nightmare in America too. Although not quite THIS bad 🙂

  • Reply Anne Livingstone January 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Come on Heather, we’re desperate for the next installment….

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      Haha. I’m working on it!

  • Reply Anne Livingstone January 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Come on Heather, we’re desperate for the next installment….

    • Reply 2summers January 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      Haha. I’m working on it!

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