Taxi drivers drive fear into the hearts of Uber drivers

2019-10-03 05:23
Uber drivers claim they are harassed outside of the University of the Western Cape in Bellville. (Aisha Abdool Karim, GroundUp)

Uber drivers claim they are harassed outside of the University of the Western Cape in Bellville. (Aisha Abdool Karim, GroundUp)

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"First, I was hijacked at gunpoint, then a week later a taxi guy tells me he's going to impound my car," says Uber driver Tawonga Chifamba. "It's a lot we're going through as Uber drivers."

Chifamba has been an Uber driver for the past two-and-a-half years.

On September 25, he had just completed a trip to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Bellville. It was about 16:30 when he pulled over on the side of the road opposite the university's main gate to wait for his next trip with five other Uber drivers.

Chifamba figured he would have about 15 minutes before his next trip and began washing his car. A taxi driver came over and began taking the keys from the ignition of the parked cars.

"He told us: 'This is not your rank'," recalled Chifamba. "He continued, saying: 'You Uber drivers don't have to park anywhere, this is our route, this is our rank'."

The taxi driver refused to return the car keys and insisted that each driver give him R500.

As this was happening, another Uber driver arrived. The taxi driver then went over to him and threatened to break a window to get his car key, according to Chifamba. The Uber driver panicked and drove away at high-speed toward Robert Sobukwe Road, where he rammed into an oncoming vehicle.

The taxi driver then ran away, leaving everyone's keys behind. Chifamba believed he ran away because "he knew the police were coming".

"This is what they are actually doing to Uber drivers," he said. "At a mall or anywhere they can see that you are Uber drivers, they come and harass you.

"These taxi guys are taking everything into their hands and doing whatever they want on the road. I don't know who is going to help us in this industry."

Although this was the first time Chifamba had experienced something like this since he started working as an Uber driver, it has been happening to Uber drivers more frequently.

"Now, we don't drive to Khayelitsha and Gugulethu," said Lawrence Ndlovu who has been an Uber driver for five years. "We're  scared even to drive in Bellville. Those guys are just targeting us."

Ndlovu has had his own encounter outside the university with two men who said they were from the taxi association and were going to impound his vehicle. "I said I want to call the police and that's when they started to harass me, and tell me to give them money."

Ndlovu said the men threatened to beat him up and took his phone as well as about R500 from his wallet before leaving.

Other Uber drivers have reported similar incidents at Tyger Valley Shopping Centre, Cape Gate Shopping Centre, Liberty Promenade Mall in Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha.

Although Uber does not release official figures on the number of drivers, it is estimated that there were around 4 000 Uber cars in Cape Town in September last year, according to an article in The Atlantic.

GroundUp has received messages from 10 other drivers working for e-hailing companies who have been stopped by minibus taxi drivers demanding money to continue operating in the area. However, they did not wish to have their names published.

Drivers have begun relying on WhatsApp groups to communicate and report incidents in order to warn each other about areas to avoid.

"Santaco [the South African National Taxi Council] is not aware of these incidents," said its spokesperson, Thabiso Molelekwa, adding it was, however, "aware of taxi operators, particularly meter taxi operators, who are disgruntled about Uber operations".

He said the council "strongly condemned the use of violence as a solution".

A marketing representative for Uber said no reports had been received, and did not want to comment further.

On Tuesday, GroundUp requested comment from the Congress of Democratic Taxi Associations via email after being unable to get through telephonically. By the time of publication, no response had been received and subsequent phone calls went unanswered.

*Aisha Abdool Karim is a Daily Maverick intern seconded to GroundUp for a month.

Read more on:    uber  |  cape town  |  crime
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