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

Picking up where I left off:

Kagiso, the traffic register number man at Langlaagte Licensing Office, tells me on Wednesday that I must come back the following Tuesday — Christmas Eve — to apply for a traffic register number. (I need to get a traffic register number before I can register my car.)

I have now made five unsuccessful licensing office visits. I’m not hopeful about the sixth.

Langlaagte Licensing Department. Tuesday, December 24.

I rise early on Christmas Eve morning and drive to Langlaagte. To my surprise, the office is indeed open. The gang of passport photo hawkers welcomes me at the entrance. I wave them off.

I go straight to the back of the building and join a group of people waiting in plastic chairs outside the traffic register number application office. Kagiso emerges from the office. Within a minute, he has dispatched all of the other people who were waiting in the plastic chairs. Not one of them has the right paperwork.

I hand Kagiso my papers. He shuffles them, looks at me, looks back at the papers. He turns and waves me into the office. I follow, triumphant. We sit.

Kagiso (inspecting my application form): Where are you from?

Me: I’m from America.

Kagiso (pointing to the “Nationality” field on my form): You must write “American” here.

[I had written “USA”.]

Me (correcting the form): Sorry.

Kagiso shuffles some more, then gets up and leaves the office. I wait and stare at the wall, reading the notices that are posted there.

bad planning sign

The sign on the far right says: “DON’T MAKE YOUR BAD PLANNING MY EMERGENCY !!”

Hahaha. Ha.

Kagiso is gone for a while. I squirm. Eventually he returns, bearing a rubber stamp pad.

Kagiso: Eish…I’m tired. Since yesterday I have been out of breath.

Me: Oh no. Maybe you should see a doctor.

Kagiso: Eish! No, I won’t see the doctor. He will put me in hospital and I won’t come out.

I silently pray that Kagiso doesn’t drop dead from a heart attack. At least not before he grants me my traffic register number.

Slowly, Kagiso staples my papers together and affixes my passport photo to the application form. He rubber-stamps a slip of paper and hands it to me. My receipt.

“Come back on January 13th,” Kagiso says. That’s nearly three weeks away but I don’t care. My traffic register number is so close now, I can almost taste it. I bid Kagiso a Merry Christmas and leave.

Langlaagte Licensing Department. Monday, January 13.

I nearly forget about my registration saga over the holidays. But on the morning of January 13th, I steel myself for more misery and head back to Langlaagte.

The building is virtually empty — almost serene. (Apparently January, unlike December, is a good month to hang out at the licensing office.) I walk to the traffic register number application office, looking for Kagiso. No sign of him. Another man emerges from the office and directs me to Window 1.

I go out to the main waiting area, find Window 1, and hand my receipt to the man behind the glass. The man shuffles some papers in a box and pulls out a packet.

Licensing man: Is this you?

Me (seeing my passport photo): Yes.

My application looks the same as it did when I left it with Kagiso three weeks ago, except for some illegible, bright-red scrawl across the front page. The bright-red scrawl looks menacing. (I really hope it has nothing to do with Kagiso’s Christmas-Eve shortness of breath.)

But licensing man is unperturbed by the red scrawl. He turns to his computer terminal and starts typing. He types and he types. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. I feel certain that licensing man will turn to me at any moment and say that my application has been rejected.

But wait, what is this I see? Licensing man turns to the printer. An official-looking green document comes out. Licensing man removes my passport photo from the application form, finds a roll of tape, and tapes the passport photo to the official-looking green document.

Behold: My traffic register number.

Traffic Register Number

It’s a January miracle.

Me: Thank you so much. I need to register my car now. Can I do that?

Licensing man: Yes. You need the original title for the car. And you must make a copy of this. (Pointing to the traffic register number certificate.)

Me: Okay. Is there a copy machine here?

Licensing man: No.

Of course there isn’t.

The security guard tells me that I can make a copy across the road. I’m afraid to cross the gauntlet on foot, so I drive. I make my copy without incident (there are several shops across Main Reef Road offering copies and passport photos — I pay R3 for a copy) and return to the office.

Less than an hour later, I emerge from the Langlaagte Licensing Office with a vehicle registration certificate in my hand. Once I got my traffic register number, registering the car was a breeze.

The good news: My car is registered! I actually own it. I’ve never really owned anything in South Africa before. This is momentous.

Change Lane Egoli

I love my car. The magnetic words on the side are from an art project called “Taxi Poetry” — read about it here. (“Egoli” means “place of gold”. It’s a nickname for Joburg.)

The bad news: My car registration is only valid for one year. This means I will be spending next December in line at the licensing office.

Randburg line

Randburg Licensing Office, December 2013. I imagine it will look much the same in December 2014.

I had planned to provide a list of tips at the end of this post, but I’ve decided against it. If you do want a concrete list of tips for buying and registering a car in South Africa, read this handy post by the Joburg Expat.

But if you’ve read all three parts of my epic journey, then you basically know what it takes to register a car in South Africa: It takes an enormous reserve of patience and every ounce of sanity you can muster.

Oh, and don’t even think about buying a car in December. Just don’t.

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