Police have made a breakthrough in investigations into an attack on a Pietermaritzburg man and his girlfriend, who were kidnapped after hailing an Uber taxi in Johannesburg.
Two men are currently behind bars in connection with multiple cases where customers of the international taxi service were attacked in Gauteng recently.
A manhunt is under way for a third man, while the duo are expected to appear in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini told The Witness on Sunday that the men are accused of raping and robbing customers using Uber vehicles in two separate incidents in July and August this year.
Dlamini said one of the men taken into custody is believed to be a “former employee of Uber cabs”, while his partner is a security guard.
One man was arrested in Mpumalanga and the other in Germiston, following an around-the-clock, intensive investigations by officers of the Gauteng Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS).
In August, The Witness reported that a Pietermaritzburg man and his girlfriend, who were in Johannesburg at the time of the incident, requested an Uber taxi via the cellphone app after they left a nightclub in the city.
It was reported that the driver and his vehicle seemed legitimate, but while the couple were in transit, two men hiding in the boot allegedly pushed the rear seats forward and stabbed the 26-year-old man before dragging the couple into the boot.
The couple were driven to an ATM in Tembisa, a township near Kempton Park, where they were forced to withdraw a sum of money before being taken to a house where they were held hostage for more than eight hours. It is believed the woman was raped and her boyfriend assaulted while at the house.
In July, a 64-year-old woman was attacked using a similar modus operandi after getting into an Uber taxi outside Monte Casino in Johannesburg.
After she entered the vehicle, two men allegedly appeared from within the boot and attacked her before she was driven to an ATM in Tembisa and forced to withdraw money.
Unlike the Pietermaritzburg couple, however, the woman was taken to a nearby veld where she was allegedly raped and left for dead.
An Uber spokesperson on Sunday told The Witness that their thoughts remain with the victims and their families, while they are grateful to police for arresting the alleged perpetrators — one of whom the spokesperson described as an Uber “former driver-partner”.
“Prior to this individual’s deactivation and arrest, he held a valid Professional Driver’s Permit and he cleared all background checks. There was no evidence of a prior criminal record. Driver-partners wanting to use the Uber app must undergo a pre-screening process, which includes a criminal background check, before their driver profile is activated,” the spokesperson said.
“At no time leading up to the attacks was the suspect’s profile matched to provide Uber rides to any of the victims. As soon as there was any suspicion he may be involved in the incidents, as a precaution, his account and access to the platform was blocked.
“When we identified the suspect after an internal investigation, we notified the police immediately. It is our standard practice to immediately suspend any individual who may be involved in suspicious activity pending further internal and or police investigation,” the spokesperson said.
A family member of the couple who were attacked in August declined to comment on Sunday.