Early this month violent clashes erupted between minibus taxi drivers and e-hailing operators at Maponya Mall in Soweto. Despite the ongoing efforts to establish peace, a sense of unease still lingers in the air.

By Philiswa Mbanjwa

In the aftermath of a recent violent clash between e-hailing operators and minibus taxi drivers at Maponya Mall in Pimville, Soweto, commuters are left with a sense of unease as the prospect of a lasting peace seems distant. The centre, once again, finds itself in a state of calm, but the underlying tension remains palpable.

Earlier this month, a heated battle erupted between minibus taxi drivers and e-hailing operators. The hostility was between minibus taxi drivers, who are accused of attacking Bolt, and Uber drivers.

In a series of alarming incidents, cars were torched, and drivers were violently attacked, narrowly escaping with their lives. Video footage of the violent standoff has been widely shared on social media, showing the extent of the violence and resulting damage.

Three vehicles were set on fire – two owned by Uber operators and one private car mistakenly identified as a Bolt vehicle. According to eyewitnesses, the incident was started by minibus taxi drivers who allegedly targeted e-hailing taxi operators.

A similar incident also occurred at Protea Glen Mall, where a vehicle owned by an e-hailing driver was also intentionally set on fire. As a result, there have been ongoing discussions among multiple stakeholders to find a peaceful resolution to these conflicts. The talks involve various transport operators, mall management, and government authorities, including the City of Johannesburg.

One temporary solution that has been put into place is the implementation of a requirement for Bolt/Uber drivers to drop off and pick up passengers outside of the mall premises. This measure has been taken to prioritise the safety of customers and eliminate any potential criminal activities.

The agreement requiring Bolt/Uber drivers to drop off and pick up passengers outside the mall premises has disappointed desperate commuters. They believe that this arrangement undermines the convenience they used to have.

Amanda Monakali, an unhappy commuter, expressed her dissatisfaction, stating that the current situation is unfair and benefits taxi operators. She believes that people may as well choose to stop using e-hailing services because they are no longer convenient.

“This is wrong and favours taxi operators. People might as well stop using e-hailing services because it is no longer convenient,” said Amanda.

Another commuter echoed the same sentiments, questioning the impact on their daily routines: “So, in other words, taxi drivers are telling me what to do with my money? Am I expected to sit in a taxi for two hours, waiting for it to be full before I can get home?”

According to a statement from Maponya Mall centre management, there are certain exceptions for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with disabilities, to be allowed to be dropped off and picked up inside the mall.

“However, exceptions are made for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with disabilities to be dropped off inside the mall,” read the statement.

Geralda Winkler, Deputy Director in Communications and Stakeholder Management at the City of Joburg, told The Telegram that a dedicated committee has been formed to oversee and manage the partnership between e-hailing operators and Soweto’s taxi association.

The convenience of e-hailing services has made them popular among private car owners who are looking to make some extra money. However, this popularity has also attracted illegal operators who pretend to be e-hailing operators and discreetly solicit passengers among shoppers.

Winkler highlighted that the recent conflicts and violence between the two organisations are primarily caused by illegal operators. The committee’s main goal is to identify sustainable solutions to address commuter concerns in Soweto and eliminate illegal operators, ultimately restoring peace and harmony.

In order to improve communication and ensure quick response during emergency situations, Winkler mentioned that they have established a WhatsApp group that includes all relevant stakeholders, including the police. This allows for an immediate response in the event of any incidents: We also have a WhatsApp group for all the stakeholders including the police, so that if something happens there’s an instantaneous response.”

Despite the committee’s diligent efforts, conflicts between e-hailing and taxi drivers continue to arise. The primary source of contention lies in the competition for commuters between these two groups.

A driver for Bolt expressed worries about safety when working near Maponya Mall. Yamkela Mpanzela stressed the importance of taking extra measures to protect both drivers and passengers. Mpanzela stated that accepting ride requests from customers at the mall is dangerous, and they fear for their own lives and the lives of their passengers.

“Taking trips from clients who request pickups at the mall has become very risky. We now fear for our lives and that of our clients,” said Mpanzela.

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