'No one can work': Cape Town e-hailing drivers warn colleagues to switch off their apps

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E-hailing service drivers continue their three-day strike over working conditions.
E-hailing service drivers continue their three-day strike over working conditions.
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  • Cape Town drivers are patrolling the streets to prevent those not striking from operating.
  • Drivers want an end to the practice of allowing companies to determine prices on behalf of operators.
  • They want commissions charged by companies to be reduced to 10%.

The strike by e-hailing drivers entered its second day on Wednesday, with drivers in Cape Town taking to the streets to "send a strong message" to colleagues who were still accepting passengers.

Drivers contracted to Uber, Bolt and DiDi want government to regulate the industry, which they accuse of exploitation. They are also unhappy with the impact of rising fuel prices and high commissions on their earnings.

Cape Town saw drivers shutting down their apps and warning that they would be on the lookout for anyone who broke the strike.

"The City of Cape Town only gave us permission for one day to strike," said Sakhumzi Peter, chairperson of the interim committee affiliated to the umbrella body Unity in Diversity. 

'No one defying the order'

"We have decided to patrol the streets in our cars. We are moving around the city to ensure that no one can work during this time. This is a fight for all of us, there should be no one defying that collective order," said Peter, adding that violence was not part of their action plan.

In Johannesburg, drivers marched to the offices of the MEC of Public Transport and Road Infrastructure, Jacob Mamabolo, to hand over their list of demands.

The action follows a similar demonstration in Pretoria on Tuesday where they furnished the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition with their demands for the e-hailing industry.

The department was given 48 hours to respond to the grievances, which include calls to:

  • Stop the practice of determining prices on behalf of operators;
  • Abolish uneconomic prices and encourage competition and new business entity entry into the sector;
  • Create a fair regulatory environment that enables investment in an equitable and socially responsible manner;
  • Guard against the creation of App monopolies that compete at the expense of operators and drivers.

Rapidly rising fuel prices have contributed to the woes of drivers, who claim to be already buckling under steep commissions deducted by companies. They want commission to be slashed to 10%. Some companies charge up to 25%.

Similar protest actions are said to be taking place in Polokwane and Durban. 

"The e-hailing drivers are suffering a lot under the current operating model of this industry," said Vhatuka Mbalengwa, the convenor of Unity in Diversity.

He said previous engagements over the years between themselves and contracting companies had not yielded any positive results.

"They have been evasive, and dismissive. Now we want the government to intervene," said Mbalengwa.

E-hailing services entered the country in 2013 with the arrival of Uber, creating a new sub-sector of the economy and employment. However, some local operators also decry the employment of foreign nationals, which they believe exacerbates the problem of for exploitation.

"The issue of foreign nationals is very emotive [currently]. Right now we are dealing with other issues, but the employment of undocumented foreign nationals works to [operators'] advantage because they know that they won't be able to strike," said Mbalengwa.

The drivers have recommended an app base fare of R50, as well as a R13 per kilometre pricing model. Peter said in some cases, companies charge as little ad R7 per kilometre, which is not profitable under the current economic conditions.

The strike is scheduled to end on Thursday.

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