File picture: Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters.

Johannesburg - Uber is facing a multimillion-rand lawsuit from passengers who claim they were raped, robbed and attacked in their cars.

In papers filed in the high court sitting in Palm Ridge, Ekurhuleni, some of the victims claim that up to four men, including an Uber driver, went on a crime spree targeting clients in the north of Joburg.

Elias Mankgane, 26, and his three co-accused, Daniel Maswikaneng, 23, Themba Mkuwanazi, 19, and Bonga Sikhosana, 26, are currently standing trial on three counts of rape, four of robbery, three of kidnapping and a count each of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, attempted rape and attempted murder.

As the case is being heard, lawyers for the seven, who have accused the men of the crimes, are also drafting papers to sue the e-hailing service, Uber, for damages.

On Wednesday, Ulrich Roux, who was representing two of the women in the case, said he was representing all seven victims in the civil matter.

“We were just waiting for the criminal trial to start before finishing drafting the court papers. We will seek compensation from Uber for trauma, medical costs, future medical costs and future trauma. We are still finalising the quantifying of all of these.”

Roux said they would file civil papers by next month.

Rape charges

Mankgane is accused of masterminding the plan to rob and sexually assault passengers. In one case, on July 6, 2016, Mankgane allegedly picked up a female passenger in Fourways and “deprived her liberty by tying her hands, covering her eyes and forcing her into the boot of the motor vehicle against her will.”

Mankgane is also facing two charges of rape after he allegedly penetrated her with his fingers and penis.

In another rape on the same night, Mankgane allegedly picked up another woman. While the car was in motion, Maswikaneng and Sikhosana jumped out of the boot of the car through the back seat, and blindfolded the woman and tied her hands.

Mankgane allegedly raped her twice before she was thrown down a steep embankment.

On August 2, 2016, Mankgane was said to have attempted to rape another female passenger and robbed her of R11 000.

He allegedly tied her hands, placed masking tape over her eyes and mouth, and forced her to stay in the car while he drove to several locations.

He also allegedly took her three bankcards and withdrew the money with them.

Uber responds

Responding to the allegations on Wednesday, Uber said: “Our thoughts continue to be with the riders and their families. These incidents are deeply upsetting.

“As soon as these incidents were reported, we reached out to local authorities, and whatever information we could provide was handed over to the police; it was this close collaboration that led to the arrest of the suspect. We have fully supported their investigations throughout and will continue to assist where needed.

“We have faith in South Africa’s legal system and that those responsible will be brought to justice,” the company said.

It added that after the criminal activities were reported, they introduced a number of safety features such as Real Time ID Check, Trusted Contacts, In-App Emergency Button and 24/7 phone support.

“We’re committed to constantly working to raise the bar and improve safety in the communities we serve,” the e-hailing service assured.

The Star

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