E-hailing drivers work under dangerous conditions

E-hailing drivers need protection from exploitation, industry tensions and criminals.Image: James Mahlokwane

E-hailing drivers need protection from exploitation, industry tensions and criminals.Image: James Mahlokwane

Published Aug 31, 2022



BEING an e-hailing driver in South Africa is a dangerous and an unsafe occupation with many drivers complaining about incidents of intimidation and harassment at the hands of difficult customers, irate and sometimes armed taxi drivers.

From being attacked by taxi drivers to theft of cellphones, car hijackings and customers refusing to pay for their trips, many of the drivers who spoke to The Star said they operated under very difficult and challenging conditions.

One of these is Soweto-based Uber driver, Trevor Mangena, who has been a driver for over two years.

Mangena says in 2021 he was threatened by three alleged taxi drivers who after spotting him with a customer threatened him with violence and confiscated his car.

He says the alleged taxi drivers demanded he pay R2 500 for the release of his car which he eventually did. In another bizarre incident, Mangena says a female customer from Protea Glen, Soweto, could not pay her fare and offered him sex in exchange for his troubles which he refused.

“I had an incident once when I was stopped by three guys who said they belong to the Soweto Taxi Association but turned out to be a false claim as they did not belong to any association. I had to pay them R2 500 in order to get my car back. After having paid the money to them, they gave me my car back. That is not all. One time, I took a lady to Protea Glen and when we arrived at her destination, she told me she does not have the fare but we could come to an arrangement to settle her bill if I sleep with her.

“I refused and confiscated her cellphone and identity document. I then gave her 48 hours to pay me before I sell her cellphone. She paid two days later and I returned her items,” he said.

Mangena says he refuses to sleep with customers as this could get him into trouble with the law.

“I always refuse to give in to allowing female customers to pay me in kind. It is easy to be accused of rape and also, it is unethical and goes against my way of handling business,” he said.

Last year, Gauteng Public Transport, Road and Infrastructure MEC Jacob Mamabolo condemned the attack on a driver in Katlehong after a video of taxi drivers beating the driver with a sjambok went viral.

Yet another Bolt driver who refused to be named said some customers were thieves and dishonest which made it difficult for drivers to do their jobs. This is after one customer made away with his phone after he had dropped him off in the former suburb of Berea, Joburg.

“We work under very difficult conditions. You are constantly having to look behind your back as a driver. It is not only taxi drivers who harass us, but customers also give us trouble. After taking this one customer from Eastgate to Berea, he simply took my phone from my hand and made away with it without having paid his fare. I was so pissed as this was not some young man but an older person who simply took advantage of me,” the driver said.

This driver said incidents of crime did not only happen at night but during the day as well.

Yet another Bolt driver who requested to remain unidentified told The Star that since she started the business a year ago, she expected anything to happen because being a driver was not safe in South Africa. For someone who wakes up at 3am, she opens up about how she gets terrified of crime but continues regardless of the fear.

“Being a driver isn’t safe whether you are female or male. Both are targeted for crimes. You will never know who you might pick up and what they can do to you. As a driver, you only hope that you can arrive home safely.”

Sibusiso Xaba who has been working for Bolt for some time also raised the same concerns, particularly that of safety and crime prevalent in many areas. Xaba recalled occasions when clients refused to pay, especially those who were drunk, who he says are problematic. “Clients who do not want to pay are the most problematic in the business. And those who refuse to pay because they are drunk.”

Xaba also said there were local routes that they avoided using for safety purposes. He added that he preferred working during the day as it was much safer compared to the night.

“During the day from 8 to 5, I think those are the safest hours of working because at night I won’t lie to you, it is very dangerous.” Xaba says Hillbrow is one of the no-go areas in Joburg adding that one risked having their car torched or being beaten up in dangerous areas.

In a recent tweet, SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) said a leaked document titled “Uber files” confirmed their long-held view that government officials up to senior politicians manipulated systems to legalise the hailing company despite knowing it was illegal.

Santaco spokesperson, Thabo Moila, failed to respond to a series of telephonic requests for comment after saying he was in a meeting. Bolt spokesperson Mahlodi Molekane promised to respond but had not done so at the time of going to print while Uber had not responded to our enquiries.

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