It’s time to renew my driver’s licence. This is where my procrastination kicks in. Usually I’m “Never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the next day”, but eventually I gotta go. I’m LATE!
So I test my own eyes, fill in my own driver’s vision form and get to Rossburgh Vehicle Licence Testing Grounds at 1.30pm, stopping on the way for a newspaper, a packet of crisps, a packet of NikNaks, a coke and a Tex chocolate bar. My health food lunch. Mental health.
Straight away it’s the usual civil service scenario: I enter the room and wonder where to go. No signs to enlighten me. I join a queue and ask: What’s this queue for? Oh. Which one? That one? Thanks. I join another queue. And wait.
When I’m two away from the fingerprint man a big fat pale bloke in blue overalls pushes ahead. He belligerently chunes the darker ou doing fingerprints: “This is the third time I’m coming back. You must do your job properly, man! The machine has rejected my fingerprints AGAIN! The lady at the far counter next door says I must tell you to do your job properly!”
“Which lady?!” says Mr Fingerprints, pushing back his chair and standing up, ready to fight with the lady who has impugned him. Off they storm next door. And no, he didn’t say “Please excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I have a small matter to attend to”.
They roar back ten minutes later, still chirping each other. “You wouldn’t last ten minutes in a private job, my man – you’d be FIRED!” “Don’t you be cheeky to me!” “I’m not cheeky, YOU’RE cheeky!” Etc etc. Neither is fuming fisticuffs mad, but neither is going to back down either.
Eventually I get my thumbs blackened and I ask: “Where next?” “Take the forms to that table in the corner”, he points. I go. I stand. I’m ignored. After a while, the Form Man finishes with the person ahead of me. He looks at me with a hint of disdain. “What you doing here?” he asks. I say “The fingerprint gentlemen told me to come here”. “There’s a queue, stand in the queue” says Mr Dale Carnegie. “Oh, OK” – I’m Mr Meek. The queue goes back to right next to Mr Fingerprint’s table. So he could have said “Join this queue” but he didn’t.
This is a long queue, so I get to read my newspaper. We’re on benches and the drill is: You sit. Then you stand up, move on three or four places, then sit again. The silent shuffle. I share the sections of my newspaper around, so some people think I’m a good oke, because there are three types of people in queues: Chatterers, Silents and Boreds. The Boreds want the paper. Three Chatterers grab me and tell me how this is “jis a munnymaking rakkit“. Although you’re always next to the same people, you get to sit just in front or just behind a constantly-changing variety of peeps as you shuffle left to the end of one bench, then right along the next bench, inching towards the holy grail. I find out that a white lady has to fetch her daughter and an elderly injun oke thinks the whole civil service has gone to pot “since the changeover”. “Hey?” he repeats, trying to get me to agree with him. When he doesn’t get any joy, he turns to someone else, undaunted. “Hey? It’s since 1994 it’s like this!” he chunes.
Now you must go next door to pay. Aha, I think, taking our money: That’ll be the fast queue. Forget it! It’s ten times longer, in a huge hall with 14 counters. Four are roped off for PrDP licences (professional permits, for heavy duty or carrying passengers). Of the other ten, five are manned. It’s 2:40pm and the signs says We close at 3pm. We debate whether they’ll keep us all there and then gleefully slam the windows shut at 3pm, or if they’ll stay until we’re all done. We risk the latter.
The signs in the pay hall are fascinating: The official ones are all Batho Pele, Our Pledge to the Valued Customer stuff. The handwritten ones are NO CHEQUES! and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL WE . . . etc. The signs show the difference between a luxury bosberaad indaba where lofty mission statements are made between lengthy buffets, and actually serving the great unwashed “on the ground”, I suppose!
When someone leaves the counter up front there’s often a long break before the next person wakes up and realises it, so the delay is exacerbated. One young sparky fella decides ‘Nooit‘, and stands up from mid-queue and takes on a marshalling role. “NEXT NEXT NEXT” he shouts the second someone leaves a hatch beckoning the next person in line. He gets things moving much faster and gets encouragement, laughter and applause from the assembled masses. When eventually his place in the queue arrives and its his turn to be served he gets a big cheer, and when finished he turns around with a huge grin and wishes us a good night here! He gets a cheerful send-off, and then things lapse back to the pathetic, glum pace before he took charge! It takes a while before someone else steps into his role, but not nearly as effectively.
Finally it’s my turn after nearly four hours, most on a hard wooden bench. It’s after 5pm and bless ’em they’re still there – down to only two open hatches by now, mind you. The very polite lady takes my money, checks the date and says: “Your card has already expired, would you like to buy a temporary licence?” Naah, I say, I’ll just wait for my new one. “Fine”, she says, “But I should tell you you might not be covered by your insurance if something should happen”. Um, how much? “R156”. I’ll take it. Thanks for telling me, I appreciate your concern.
End of an interesting day at the licencing office! Don’t forget to take your newspaper and munchies when its your turn!
It’s one month later and I’m driving in Cato Manor when WHUMP! I get hit right up the exhaustpipe by a goofed oke in a home-made sawn-off “convertible”. He stumbles out and grins at me. He has no driver’s licence, the car is not licenced, he has no insurance and no job. He takes full responsibility and chunes me I must let him take my car to his mates who can straighten it. I think if that was true they’d have straightened you, china. A nearby carguard sidles over from a used car lot and says he saw it all if I need a witness, asks for my cell number. Later he phones asking for a job.
The repair runs to R27 000 and the very first thing my insurance asked for was my licence!
That beautiful very polite lady at Rossburgh saved me a whole lotta drama and pain! Thank you again, ma’am! Above and beyond!
chunes – tells; says; from ‘tunes’;
jis a munnymaking rakkit – just a money-making racket;
injun oke – forefathers were from India;
Batho Pele – People First;
bosberaad or indaba – frequent retreats where brainstorming is done at great expense in luxury surroundings; plans are made, lo-ong mission statements crafted; and then ignored; the success of the indabas is rated only on the standard of the catering;
nooit – never; no way;