Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Morning In The Bowels Of Bureaucracy

Today I took the pleasant little jaunt that every licensed driver has to every five years - I went to the Traffic Department to get my licence renewed. (Or, perhaps more accurately, I should say that I went to the Traffic Department to start the process of getting my licence renewed.)

It actually wasn't as bad as I expected (especially after having recently read other-duke's experience at Home Affairs). I entered the establishment through the exit, since the entrance was barred (and, naturally, there were four dodgy guys standing right outside that I had to pass), became confounded by the cryptic signboard (in three languages!) that "explains" what queue you are supposed to join, complete with arrows that I later learnt meant either "go here, then here, then here" or "go here or here", depending on your particular needs.

I then walked around to try to understand the queue system and the window numbering, which goes something like 11, no number (but it's either 12 or 13), (another) 12, no number (another 12), no number (possibly another 12), no number (possibly another 12), no number (possibly another 12), no number (possibly a second 8), 8, 7 (enquiries, except it says "traffic fines"), and then you go around the corner and by then I'm lost.

5 (eye tests and fingerprints) is in another room (and it is a room, not a window), as are some other numbers, and then there are other numbers/windows across the main room on the opposite wall, dealing with things that were of no relevance to me (and I can only take in so much at one time). There's also a photographic station outside, which I could see from the fingerprint queue.

All over the place, and especially at windows, are little signs telling people they're probably in the wrong queue as the queue they're in is not for enquiries, and they should go to window 7 (enquiries) to find out where they should be.

Anyway, so I took it all in, joined the queue based on what the main signboard said (the one with all the arrows)...and about five minutes later realised that most (but not all) of the people in the queue had a green form. I didn't have a green form. Not that this was a big deal because the queue had hardly moved.

I asked the guy behind me, who had a form, and he began to tell me a complicated story that involved multiple windows, eye tests, photos, fingerprints and lots of queuing. I became confused by all the options so I decided to start at the beginning, with enquiries, window 7 (which is what the guy told me anyway).

There was no queue at window 7 (because everyone had already mistakenly joined the wrong queue, and not gone to enquiries). The friendly woman checked me out in the computer (I'm filed in the computer), gave me a green form, told me a long story that confused me, and sent me off to join the queue for eye testing. I asked about a pen, since I didn't have one, having forgotten it in the car, and was told to ask for one "around the corner".

I got around the corner but didn't see the pen window anywhere. All I saw was what looked like a queue, but I wasn't sure where it started. As it turned out, it wasn't the queue I was meant to join, but more on that later.

I was standing around, apparently looking confused, wondering where the queue was, and where I could get a pen, when a man in work overalls standing in a far corner beckoned to me. Naturally, I turned around to see who behind me he was beckoning, but there was no one there (everyone was in a queue), so I turned to look at him and he mouthed something to the effect of "yes, you" (meaning me). I went against all advice ever about beckoning strangers and went to ask him what he wanted.

Surprisingly, he didn't want anything (not even money for a fake charity in Khayelitsha or a fake gardening job at my house so he could check out my PlayStation 2), he just wanted to tell me what to fill in on the form (I was confused as I wasn't supposed to fill in most of it) and where to go - around the corner to queue 5. Wow! Pleased at this non-threatening turn of events I asked if he had a pen. He did. I think he keeps it in his inside overalls pocket just for people like me! In fact, I think all he does it direct lost people and lend them pens! Wow!

I moved off to fill in the form (with my new friend reminding me not to forget to return his pen), filled it in, returned the pen, and turned the corner (another corner) to find queue 5, for the room of eye tests and fingerprinting. While in queue 5 a guy who had been in front of me in the previous queue, also without green papers, joined the queue behind. Ha! I wasn't the only one confused.

The eye testing and fingerprinting went quite smoothly. It's a bit gross having to touch the eye machine with your forehead that every other person ever has touched with their forehead (with the operator only vaguely wiping it between each person), and it's a bit gross touching a fingerprint pad that everyone else ever (including real criminals, I'm sure) has touched, although I presume the ink kills germs, but the people, at least, were friendly, which was a surprise, considering their dismal jobs having to deal with pretty much everyone ever.

I skipped the photograph bit (because I brought my own, like I was supposed to) and returned to the main room. I joined the queue that I had originally joined, smug in the knowledge that things would be fine because I now had the green forms, my eyes had been tested, I'd been fingerprinted and my photos had been affixed to the form (that I "must not bend").

Things then went horribly wrong. While I watched in amusement as dramas unfolded at window 11 (card collections) and marvelled at the fact that I could almost understand some of the Xhosa in the many bilingual signs around the room, the three window 12s (and/or 13s) that were open (for my queue) slowly whittled down to one. And then the queue came to a standstill.

The highlight of this standstill was watching a guy in the queue for window 11 pick his nose. And by "pick" I mean dig deeply, for brain cells, from both sides.

Eventually I reached the window and handed over my form, various documents of identity, and the money (payment, not bribe). In return I received a receipt and was told that this meant my licence would be valid for three more months (while the card that takes about eight weeks to be processed and delivered takes about eight weeks to be processed and delivered). Nowhere on the receipt does it actually say this, though, so I just hope I don't end up in a situation in which I need to provide it as proof that I have a licence.

After that, I went to work (arriving late, as you can imagine).



Anonymous Katt said...

Aaaah, been there, done that and due for it next year.

You should get a medal for surviving that, especially the nose picking. I hate that!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 6:58:00 PM  
Anonymous kyknoord said...

The sad thing is that none of this is an exaggeration. The only thing that's missing is the "Mandy J Watson, E News, Cape Town" at the end.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 7:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

katt: The nose picking (spectacular as it was) was topped slightly by the guy I saw in London in June who blew a huge wad of snot out of his nose onto the pavement.

Kyk: Those reporters usually look like they've just crawled through a traffic department on fire right before they appear on camera, no matter what the story is actually about.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Katt said...

Oooh, Mandy, I almost puked up my cupcake breakfast.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

As long as you didn't blow it out of your nose.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 1:04:00 PM  
Anonymous kyknoord said...

Except for Charlene Stanley (is she with E? I dunno). She always looks like she's on the verge of tears, although I always get a kick out of the way she says horrrrses, when reporting on equestrian events.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 1:34:00 PM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

I think E and the SABC are interchangeable these days. I find it hard to watch the news if it's an "on location" report.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 1:56:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I'm so glad I live way out in the country! (ie Somerset West) Our licence office appears to be independent of the rest of Home Affairs, being housed in a small room where you have to step around the eye testing machine to get to the one and only window. Simple, yes! Easy - not always.

Also up for renewal next year... hope the office doesn't plan to expand before then.

Friday, September 15, 2006 9:30:00 AM  
Blogger moonflake said...

oh, the people who work there but are not actually employed by the traffic department are extremely helpful (the same cannot be said for those who are actual traffic dept employees). I always make sure to get my ID photos when i arrive, because the guys who take the photos know the queueing system better than the tellers, and I don't feel bad asking them because I just paid them monies.

Thursday, October 12, 2006 5:36:00 PM  

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