Policing forces promise to end war between metered taxi, Uber and Taxify drivers

Johannesburg – Working together, law enforcement agencies have vowed to resolve the ongoing war between metered taxis drivers and Uber and Taxify.

Officers from the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department (EMPD) and officials from the Department of Community Safety on Tuesday briefed the Gauteng legislature's Committee on Roads and Transport on plans to deal with violence between taxi drivers.

The briefing at the Springs Civic Centre comes shortly after the body of Siyabonga Langelihle Ngcobo, a Taxify driver, was found in the boot of a burnt car near the Unisa Sunnyside Campus last Thursday night.

There has been a widespread outcry over the death of the 21-year-old who was studying Sport Management at the Tshwane University of Technology.

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JMPD operations director Stephen Mosimane said there were three affected areas: Midrand, Sandton Centre and the Johannesburg CBD.

"In the three regions the places that are affected are the Gautrain stations, including… in Midrand, Sandton, Marlboro and Park Station."

He said one of the responses would be to ensure that there was high visibility and planned stops and searches.

"We got information from the stops that the drivers are using petrol and acid.

"We have a satellite [station] in Midrand and in the Johannesburg CBD. Since these interventions, we have indeed seen a difference."

'They felt that there was this big monster'

Mosimane said that working together with the police also resulted in improvements.  

"Initially when we began the operation, we saw retaliation, people were threatened. We found that some people were in possession of firearms and there was damage to property."

EMPD's acting regional director Peter Maluleka said the security cluster at the OR Tambo International Airport had been reinforced.

"The issue of the conflict between Uber and the metered taxi drivers erupts now and again, but it can be picked up through intelligence," said Maluleka. 

He said, in the Ekurhuleni region, the affected areas were Tembisa, Tsakane and Kempton Park.

Department of Community Safety's Xolisa Mdigwane explained how the war began.

"The reason that the violence between the Uber and the metered taxi drivers flared up [was that] metered taxi drivers felt that government favoured Uber over them. They felt that there was this big monster that was coming to take away their livelihoods."

That was followed by several attacks and law enforcement had intervened.

"Police were placed at different points... mainly at the OR Tambo, the Gautrain Station and Hatfield."

'We have faith in the justice system'

Mdingwane said 120 vehicles, both Uber cars and metered taxis, had been impounded and 70 vehicles seized at OR Tambo.

"We have made arrests and one of the people was involved in the killing of an Uber driver. The one big arrest is when they blockaded the R21 and we arrested about 90 of them."

He said after the arrests the situation had seemed to improve, "until the killing of a young man [Ngcobo], a 21-year-old, who was killed and placed in the back of his boot".

He said officials would be meeting on March 15 to work on a way forward on the matter.

The State Security Agency had also come on board, he said.

Chairperson of the committee, Mafika Mgcina, thanked the officers for their report.

He stressed the need for the police to communicate more.

"I would suggest that, at the March 15 meeting, you select a team that will lead the communication, that must include metro police, SAPS and intelligence so that we can avoid speaking from different corners."

On prosecutions, Mgcina said communities wanted to see people being arrested and appearing in court. "But we have faith in the justice system," he said, adding that the committee would be calling drivers from Uber, Taxify and the metered taxis to find common ground.