By Unathi Sonwabile Henama
On the 17 July 2017, an Uber partner driver in Pretoria died after his car was set alight five weeks ago outside Loftus Versveld. The driver suffered severe burn wounds. Metered taxi drivers are the suspects because of the ongoing turf war between Uber and themselves. Uber has asked for a meeting with the Minister of Police to discuss the challenges faced by the Uber partner drivers and Uber passengers. The meter taxi industry has accused Uber drivers of stealing their business, calling the ride-hailing service illegal. On the 10 March 2017, metered taxi drivers blocked major highways towards OR Tambo International Airport, a protest that did much to make them lose more business. 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, the state has failed in its responsibility to create safety and security for the Uber partner drivers and the Uber passengers.
Uber partner drivers and passengers are also attacked through a syndicate of metered taxi drivers and car parking guards who attack Uber drivers because Uber has become the easy target for opportunistic crimes associated with robbery. The transient nature of Uber means that they 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 a part of the turf war where metered taxi drivers have on many occasions been the instigators of violence. 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’s in solidarity with 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 by 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, a form of entrepreneurship. Uber has created a new market that does not compete with the metered taxis. Uber 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 been used as an alternative means of scholar transportation by thousands of parents who want a transport system that is safe, reliable and transparent. Uber has reduced car ownership, by acting as the invisible second car for many households, which means fewer cars on the road and less pollution. Uber which matches supply and demand more efficiently does not occupy valuable parking space like the metered taxi drivers. An attack on Uber remains an attack on the fundamental principles of democracy, the right to choice and liberty. Metered taxi drivers display the sickening South African mentality that citizens have an obligation to use their metered taxi, which show 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
This is a form of homegrown terrorism because metered taxi drivers are specialists in terror. No one has a monopoly on violence, and metered taxi drivers must understand that acts of violence are not their exclusive preserve. The Uber partner drivers will also arm themselves and take the violence towards to the meter taxi drivers if they continue their violence dividend. This is a situation that I hope will be averted. 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, and therefore any crime against Uber is a form of treason.
Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity.