Uber driver’s death raises fears, tension

2017-07-23 06:04

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The death this week of an Uber driver, whose car was allegedly petrol-bombed, has multiplied the fears of other drivers.

“Now we pray hard for our safe return before leaving home. Our tension with metered taxi drivers has worsened and we have become targets of assaults, robbery and hijackings, which is why we leave home every time not sure if we’ll make it back in one piece,” said Uber Drivers’ Movement spokesperson Zweli Ngwenya.

He said the death of their colleague, identified in media reports as Lindelani Mashau, had escalated the tension between Uber drivers and metered taxi drivers in an ongoing turf war.

Mashau’s vehicle was allegedly petrol-bombed while he sat in it near Loftus Versveld Stadium in Pretoria following a Springbok match on June 10. He died in hospital on Monday.

Another driver was lucky to make it out alive after his vehicle was also set alight in Kensington, Johannesburg, about three weeks ago, according to Ngwenya.

The introduction of Uber to the country was met with resistance from the start with metered taxi drivers saying the international transport brand’s lower rates would kill their businesses.

“Uber drivers have a WhatsApp group where incidents are recorded daily and it shows clearly that despite all efforts to engage those against us, the tension is escalating,” Ngwenya explained, adding that the only intervention that could calm the situation was swift action and arrests by the police.

Uber spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said the company was “currently engaging the ministry of police which indicated that they are working on a cross-functional strategy” to bring order with the help of other departments, including transport.

Allenberg said Mashau’s “brutal attack has deeply upset all” Uber members, and that the company had procured the services of “former law enforcement professionals who are working with the police to support their investigation”.

She said more than 40 incidents involving Uber drivers had been recorded and the company was “aware of many unreported incidents and we need the support of the police to bring these to an end”. She said the intimidation of Uber drivers at Gautrain stations had led the company to hire private security on site to monitor and manage the situation and ensure reliable pick-ups and drop-offs.

“We are doing all we can to prioritise safety. Our incident response team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond immediately to any rider- or driver-reported incidents or accidents in South Africa and globally.”

However, Ngwenya said Uber’s security arrangement was not making any difference as drivers continued to be attacked even in the presence of security personnel.

“Our Uber security really needs to pick up their game, catch our assailants and hand them over to the police,” he said, adding that customers did not prefer Uber because of rates but good service.

Meanwhile, the drivers’ movement has been collecting signatures for a petition it is hoping to hand over to Police Minister Fikile Mbalula soon.

Asked if Uber had tried to engage metered taxi drivers who want the company out, Allenberg said it was engaging with all stakeholders. The company was also keen to offer its technology to “a broad number of taxi drivers to boost their chances for profit”, she said.

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