The practice of bribing your way to a driver’s licence in Johannesburg is as ubiquitous as it is unavoidable for some budding drivers, especially if they are vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation, according to experts.
Often referred to as “cold drink” or tjotjo, bribing an instructor to obtain a licence is both costly and almost unavoidable in some instances, because instructors intimidate new drivers by telling them that failure to pay a bribe is almost guaranteed to ensure you fail.
Jannie*, a driving school owner for more than 30 years, prides himself in being one of the few honest driving instructors in Johannesburg, but says he often faces intimidation when he tries to expose the parallel universe of the illegal driver’s licence industry.
“Driver’s licence instructors work in cahoots with the traffic department staff and that is why it will never end, and they will never get caught,” he explains.
“If you go and stand in line at Randburg testing station, or even as you walk into the station at about 6.30am or 7am, you will immediately be approached by one of them.
“The corruption starts with the learner’s licence. A student can pay about R750 for someone to queue for them and book a test. Booking a test is only supposed to cost you about R228. About 90% of the instructors are corrupt and pretty much all of the examiners are corrupt.”
According to Jannie, driver’s test examiners can make about R40 000 a week from the bribes they receive from the instructors in a transaction known as a “guaranteed pass”.
This is the system whereby the instructor obtains a bribe from the learner driver in order to take the test, knowing that even if they make enough mistakes to fail the examiner will either look the other way or assist the student. This can set a learner driver back an extra R4 500, but some instructors can arrange it for as little as R1 500.
“Another way they can do it is to arrange for somebody else to take the test on their behalf – the learner’s and the driver’s test.
“That can cost you about R12 000, but they will do it, because at the testing station everybody gets a piece of the bribe, from the examiners to the managers,” Jannie adds.
Chairperson of Justice Project South Africa Howard Dembovsky estimated that one in three issued driver’s licences are illegally obtained.
“It’s become a pandemic situation now, to be honest, and the only way to deal with it is for management to get a firm grip on it,” he says.
“Ultimately, you can say that everybody in the value chain is bribed. But to get to a stage where it is being dealt with effectively there has to be a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy.” – firstname.lastname@example.org
* Name changed to protect identity
One in three are fraudulent
One out of every three drivers on South African roads may have obtained their drivers’ licences fraudulently – and this could be one of the major contributors to the country’s road death toll.
According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s (RTMC) road fatality statistics, 14 050 people lost their lives on South Africa’s roads last year.
The RTMC’s Simon Zwane says they based their estimation of illegally obtained licences on information obtained during ongoing investigations by themselves, as well as the police’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).
Zwane believes the staggering road death figures could be attributed to the high number of poorly, or untrained, drivers on the road.
“It definitely contributes,” he told The Citizen yesterday. “It can’t be denied and we can see that in the figures, which show that almost 90% of traffic accidents are the result of human error.”
Zwane believes that eliminating the ease with which licences can be fraudulently obtained will help reduce road deaths.
However, the RTMC has to wait for the SIU’s ongoing investigation into fraudulent licences to be completed before they can proceed. The SIU investigation’s findings will guide government on how to eliminate the problem, as well as how to remove the offending drivers from South African roads.
So far, there has not been a date set for the completion of this investigation.
– Citizen reporter