Taxify operators say they are being specifically targeted because they don’t have protection and the criminals know they keep cash.

Johannesburg - Mpho*, 23, had been a Taxify driver for just over two months when he received a ride request that would cost him his life.

He had been at his home in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, when he received a trip request from London Road, also in Alexandra, at arbout 7pm two Saturdays ago. His bloodied body was recovered about two days later with three stab wounds, while his vehicle was traced to 14th Avenue in Alex the following day.

His captors drove around with him for about an hour, during which they stabbed him, robbed him of his cash and cellphone, and also emptied his bank account. His colleagues believe that Mpho’s death is linked to the ongoing rivalry between e-hailing taxi services and metered taxis, which in recent months have resulted in intimidation, violent clashes and even deaths.

The introduction of the e-hailing service has been met with resistance, with metered taxi operators arguing that its lower rates would kill their businesses. In March, the charred body of Uber driver and university student Siyabonga Ngcobo was found locked in the boot of his burnt-out car in Sunnyside, Pretoria.

Two metered taxis were reported to have been torched hours after Ngcobo’s body was found. The Metered Taxi Council has rejected assertions that its members were involved in Ngcobo’s death.

'Dangerous industry'

Meshack Ngoma, owner of the car that Mpho had been driving, said the deceased had worked for him for only two weeks. Ngoma joined Taxify two years ago and his drivers have experienced three robberies to date.

“This has become a very dangerous industry," Ngoma said. "We are being specifically targeted because we don’t have protection and the criminals know we keep cash.” 

He said that on the fateful night, Mpho’s older brother called him (Ngoma), informing him that he had not returned from the London Road trip, which was supposed to take less than an hour.

“My tracker company traced the vehicle to 14th Avenue," Ngoma said. "We found it parked with the front number plate missing, and the safety belt was cut. The back seat had bloodstains.

“The police insisted I take the vehicle home with fingerprints being taken from it. Two days later, I discovered more blood in the car and I decided to inform a friend who is a police officer. He organised to have the vehicle taken for fingerprints.”

Unregistered SIM

Mpho’s body was located at a government mortuary in Joburg two days later and case of murder was opened.

“It will be difficult to trace the people who committed this crime because anybody with an unregistered SIM card can request Taxify," Ngome added. “The app can read a cellphone number but not the device’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which can be used to trace its owner.”

A long stint without a job had forced Mpho to join the e-hailing industry.

“He was oblivious of its dangers and the ongoing rivalry with metered taxis," his brother said. "He was just happy to have secured a job and to feed his child and our parents.”

Johannesburg e-hailing drivers and other stakeholders were expected to hold a meeting in Marlboro on Tuesday, where their safety concerns were to be discussed, including the possibility of arming drivers with panic buttons.

Gauteng Metered Taxi Council secretary Hendrick Ndou said criminals were taking advantage of the “clashing of ideas between them and e-hail service operators”.

* Not his real name

The Star