By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
On the 17 July 2017, an Uber partner driver in Pretoria died after his car had been set alight five weeks earlier outside Loftus Versveld. The driver suffered severe burn wounds. Metered taxi drivers are suspected because of the turf war between Uber and the meter taxi drivers. Uber has asked for a meeting with the Minister of Police to discuss the challenges faced by the Uber partner drivers and their passengers.
In a journal article titled ‘’Uber: The South Africa Experience’’ the challenge of Uber Xenophobia is raised, where Uber experiences discrimination. The death of the Uber driver is a turning point in South Africa, indicating the failure of the state to fulfil its responsibility to create safety and security for the Uber partner drivers and their Uber passengers.
On the other side, the meter taxi industry accused Uber drivers of stealing their business, calling the ride-hailing service illegal. Earlier this year, on the 10 March, the metered taxi drivers blocked major highways towards OR Tambo International Airport, a protest that did much to contribute to them losing more business.
Uber partner drivers and passengers are also attacked through a syndicate of metered taxi drivers and car parking guards who attack Uber drivers because they are seen as easy targets for opportunistic crimes associated with robbery. The transient nature of Uber means that the drivers do not form the relationships that metered taxi drivers would have with the car guards in areas where they operate from.
This opportunistic crime is a classical South African challenge, institutionalised by the service delivery strikes that are associated with the looting of stores. Gautrain stations have become the turf war where the metered taxi drivers are the instigators of violence, and police vehicles have been dispatched to Gautrain stations.
Instead of focusing on their declining businesses, the violence that metered taxi drivers are using has done more to dampen customer appetite to use metered taxi than driving them away from Uber partner drivers. The world-class convenience that Uber provides has meant that insurance companies encourage their clients to use Uber instead of driving under the influence of alcohol. This has benefited the night time economy with more patrons encouraged relying on the safe transport provided by Uber.
Uber is part of disruptive entrepreneurship, where humans become co-producers in providing services for consumption in the economy. It has created a whole new market that does not compete with the metered taxis and has managed to encourage those that own cars to use Uber instead and reduce their cost of living by reducing wear and tear on their cars, and the e-toll bills that harass Gauteng residents.
Uber has also been used as an alternative means of scholar transportation by thousands of parents who want a transport system that is safe, reliable and transparent. It has reduced the need for car ownership, by acting as the invisible second car for many households, which means fewer cars on the road and less pollution. Uber matches supply and demand more efficiently and does not occupy valuable parking space like the metered taxis.
An attack on Uber remains an attack on the fundamental principles of democracy, the right to choice and liberty. Metered taxi drivers display a sickening mentality that citizens have an obligation to use their metered taxis, even though they often deliver abysmal levels of service.
Instead of adapting their offerings because of increased competition from Uber, the metered taxi drivers response has been violence. This is a form of homegrown terrorism. These taxi drivers are specialists in terror. No-one has a monopoly on violence, and the meter taxi drivers must understand that acts of violence are not their exclusive preserve.
What stops the Uber partner drivers from arming themselves and responding with violence to the meter taxi drivers? This is a situation that I hope will be averted. If it is not, it will mean that South Africa will become a failed state, the Wild West in the south of Africa. An attack on Uber remains an attack on the tourism economy because tourists use Uber disproportionately. An attack on the tourism economy is an attack on South Africa, as tourism is the leading job creating sector that grew by 13% last year.
By extension, any crime against Uber is a form of treason. South Africa must ask the Minister of Transportation when the National Land Transport Amendment Bill will be enacted as law, which would legalise e-haling services provided by Uber.
Author: Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.