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Police keep strong presence in Soweto after attacks on e-hailing drivers

Police keep strong presence in Soweto after attacks on e-hailing drivers
The scene in 2017 after Uber and metered drivers set one another’s vehicles on fire in Sandton. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)

The police were monitoring Soweto after taxi drivers allegedly attacked e-hailing service operators. Some e-hailing drivers say it’s time to take a stand.

Police are investigating a case of attempted murder and malicious damage to property following a dispute between taxi drivers and e-hailing drivers at Maponya Mall, Soweto, on Thursday night.

“It is reported that on the evening of 1 June 2023, the taxi drivers attacked the alleged e-hailing drivers. Three vehicles were burned and the owners were assaulted and one of them shot. All three victims were taken to a local hospital,” said Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo. 

Police said four more vehicles were damaged in the attacks.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Report finds rogue associations and outdated systems fuel taxi conflict

One Uber driver who spoke to Daily Maverick from Soweto on Sunday warned that e-hailing drivers would retaliate against the taxi industry following the attacks.

“Already, yesterday, you could see they were not working. There were no taxis at the rank. We prevented them from operating. In our country, we share whatever size of bread is on the table but the taxi guys want to eat alone,” said the driver, who asked for his name to be withheld.

“The conflict has been brewing for years and attacks never stopped. It’s nothing but greed, a fight for customers,” he said. 

Uber driver Nkosinathi Khanyile said he had never experienced intimidation from taxi drivers, but knew many colleagues who had.

“They want to eat alone. When the customers dry up they panic and look for low-hanging fruit to pick instead of understanding the business and waiting like the rest of us. It’s time for pushback. We all have families to feed,” said Khanyile.

Gauteng Transport MEC Kedibone Diale-Tlabela said: “We would like to strongly condemn these senseless attacks on individuals and damage to vehicles. These acts are unacceptable and must be dealt with harshly. We will not be deterred from building an integrated and modernised public transport system by individuals who use intimidation and violence to put their message across.”

The spokesperson for the provincial Department of Transport, Lesiba Mpya, failed to respond to questions about what the department was doing about the violence at Maponya Mall. 

Several summits and indabas have been arranged to solve the warfare in the transport sector in Gauteng. A 2019 summit concluded with a commitment to peace, but a permanent solution to the matter remains elusive. 

Regulation in the taxi and e-hailing sectors has been a major issue, which was also broadly dealt with by the Taxi Violence Commission and in its report, released in February 2021.

‘A national issue of great concern’

Bolt’s Takura Malaba, the regional manager for east and southern Africa, said: “Bolt is aware of the incidents that took place at Maponya Mall on Thursday, 1 June 2023 where ride-hailing drivers’ vehicles were vandalised and drivers assaulted by taxi drivers. Crime against ride-hailing drivers continues to be a national issue of great concern and the safety of passengers and drivers that use the Bolt platform is of utmost importance to us.”

Bolt said some pick-up and drop-off points at Maponya Mall had been temporarily closed to ensure that drivers and passengers were safe while the situation was being assessed.

“We have also escalated the issue with the management of Maponya Mall and also South African Police Service including Crime Intelligence in order to ensure that the matter is closely monitored and to support the criminal investigations currently under way,” Malaba said.

Bolt strongly condemned the incidents, saying everyone had the right to earn a living and move around without fear of violence or intimidation. 

The company said it was developing safety features and tools that address drivers’ safety concerns.

But not all drivers are convinced.

“We all know that the dangerous situation has been brewing for years. All the while we have been on the receiving end because we want peace. It’s time to turn the tables,” one Uber driver told Daily Maverick at Maponya Mall.

Increased competition

Competition for transport services appears to have drastically increased in recent years as there are also private vehicle owners who hang around malls in Soweto, approaching shoppers as they exit and offering them informal cab services.

In some areas in Soweto, there have been tense meetings between transport operators aimed at finding ways to accommodate one another. Despite some apparent progress in meetings, peace remains elusive.

Soweto pensioner and e-hailing customer Sibongile Maleka said, “I normally use Uber when I am going to get my pension. It’s convenient because it picks me up at my house and drops me back there. They also do not have a problem helping me out of the vehicle as I struggle to walk.

“The Maponya Mall [management] are selfish. We come here to support them, but they bar us in meetings concerning our safety,” she said. 

On Friday, several meetings were held to try to restore order, but less than 48 hours later, on Saturday, minibus taxis were prevented from operating at the mall.

Both the taxi industry and e-hailing drivers have complained about the lack of regulation in the e-hailing sector. In March 2022, e-hailing operators went on a three-day strike over the government’s failure to regulate the industry, as well as low wages and safety issues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Three-day strike has ripple effect on drivers, business owners and customers as everyone’s under pressure

The long-awaited National Land Transport Amendment Bill, which aims to regulate the e-hailing industry, is yet to be enacted into law. Parliament has passed the bill and sent it to President Cyril Ramaphosa for approval following its tabling before Parliament in April 2016. DM


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