Basically South Africans can't choose which mode of transport they prefer
The drive from Hatfield Gautrain station to my hotel in Menlyn was less than 15 minutes, but for all the drama and tension that attended it, it could have been 15 hours.
The first Uber driver, when he was told he was supposed to fetch me from the Gautrain station, dropped the line. The second one agreed to come and pick me up, but only a block or two from the station. Under the scorching sun, I walked to the rendezvous a block from the station. The Uber never showed up.
The third driver, when he finally pitched, swooped on me like a vulture - grabbed my bags and threw them into the boot and almost shouted at me: "Let's go, grootman. Jump in the front; it's safer that way."
With tyres squealing, we got out of there. When I began to relax I came down on him like a ton of bricks: "Why do I have to walk one block away from the station? What if it were raining?"
Instead of answering me, he pointed me to a white Mercedes Benz parked on the side of the road, "You see, the man in that car is one of them. They have been hired by the maxi cab companies to monitor us. When they see an Uber car, they attack it. Assault the driver, and the passenger too."
We turned the corner. He showed me another car, "Here's another one. They don't play. Not so long ago they burned down an Uber car. One day they offloaded a passenger from the car, robbed him of his bags as punishment for using an Uber."
As a news junkie, I had indeed heard blood-curdling accounts of attacks on Uber drivers in Johannesburg and Pretoria. But as someone who is currently based in Cape Town, the accounts sounded remote, surreal. Until this Wednesday past.
With the driver recounting the attacks in staccato sentences, the message began to sink in my mind: this is real.
There is no reliable account of the number of attacks that have been carried out on Uber drivers and their passengers since the beginning of this year, what is clear, however, is the situation is getting out of hand.
When Uber made its first appearance in this country many people celebrated. As opposed to bus and minibus public transportation offerings, Uber is not stuck to one route or grid. The service runs 24 hours, seven days a week.
Unlike the regular maxi cab, Uber is much cheaper. For example, a maxi cab from OR Tambo to my house in the north of Joburg sets me back by R350, whereas Uber charges me R130.
Clearly the advent of Uber has given maxi cab operators a run for their money. What is sad, however, is that they haven't seen Uber as a challenge that requires of them to reconsider their business strategy.
Instead, they have resorted to violence. Ironically that is exactly what kombi operators did to maxi cab operators some years ago when the maxi cabs began to be a force to be reckoned with.
As was the case when kombi operators attacked maxi cab operators, the victims in the attack on Ubers are innocent passengers. You and I.
If the Uber drivers can clearly identify the "monitors" or hitmen hired by the maxi cab mob why can't the policemen clamp down on them, or at least have a visible presence at such public amenities as train stations, airports, etc. where Uber cars pick up their fares?
If such lawlessness can be allowed to fester in this sector, what will stop it from trickling into other aspects of public life?
Policemen must do their work. Their bosses must make sure of that. It is sheer madness that a bunch of thugs can deny the public our inalienable right to choose the mode of transport we are comfortable with.
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.