Uber driver’s death raises fears, ten­sion

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

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 cross­func­tional 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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