Uber and Bolt Soweto-Malls ban is due to failure to regulate South Africa’s e-hailing industry

Michael Akuchie
Uber and Bolt Soweto-Malls ban is due to failure to regulate South Africa's e-hailing industry
e-hailing driver

E-hailing drivers in South Africa continue to feel the brunt of working in an unregulated industry as an order has been put in place barring them from operating in Soweto malls for three months. This move is expected to deter further altercations between e-hailing drivers and their taxi counterparts. 

Both parties have been at loggerheads with the most recent incident occurring last Monday at the Protea Glen Mall. At least three e-hailing drivers have been injured and four vehicles destroyed respectively. The Soweto United E-hailing Association, the Soweto Taxi Association, and other stakeholders agreed on this decision.

vehicle belonging to an e-hailing driver
Source – @EhailingCouncil / Twitter

In a press statement shared by Councillor Mgcini Tshwaku, a member of the Mayoral Committee, the following was agreed upon: 

  • Officers of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and South African Police Service will aid in securing the malls and supporting unregistered e-hailing drivers. 
  • E-hailing drivers will no longer enter Soweto malls to  drop off or pick up a passenger except for the “elderly, disabled, and mothers of newborn babies.” 

All parties involved are expected to reconvene tomorrow to finalize the arrangement. 

While Bolt and Uber drivers accuse their taxi peers of perpetrating the attacks because the latter feel threatened, Kenny Kunene – a city official – blames crooks who disguise themselves as e-hailing operators. Aside from impersonation, they also undercut legitimate e-hailing drivers by charging half of the actual price.

Away from the above theories, the E-Hailing Partners Council – a union of South Africa-based e-hailing operators – argues that the inability of the government to pass the National Transport Amendment Bill is the root cause of the problem.

Since the arrival of e-hailing in South Africa in 2013, concerns over its legality have lingered. The Bill, if signed into law, will usher in various regulations for the e-hailing space, thus legitimizing it. Section 66A of the bill states that the Minister of Transport can set standards for e-hailing services and prescribe the requirements for e-hailing mobile applications.

The union said in a press release:

The Act should officially introduce e-hailing into the Transport eco-system & therefore level the playing field & enable coexistence amongst counterparts.

Among the proposed regulations for e-hailing operators in South Africa is the introduction of a driver identification system. This should easily spot rogue elements claiming to be Bolt or Uber drivers. It is strongly believed that the absence of an identification mechanism caused the death of a Bolt driver last year

The deceased – Abongile Mafalala – was murdered by a vigilante mob which was on high alert following reports that “someone in a suspicious vehicle was abducting girls in the area.” 

Read also: Ibadan e-hailing drivers reject Bolt fare increase, to embark on 5-day strike

E-hailing in South Africa is overdue for regulation 

The gig economy is having its best time now with many people, youths especially, joining the workforce. They comprise e-hailing drivers, dispatch riders, freelance writers, and many more categories. Essentially, the traditional 9-5 work structure is no longer the solution for today’s world. 

But the gig economy is known for its dark side. Although independent contractors mostly get to pick their work hours, there are days when jobs are scarce. Insurance, sick days, and other incentives are often non-existent. 

‘Stop blackmailing us with passengers’- striking e-hailing drivers slam Bolt and Uber
Uber and Bolt vehicles. Credit: Nairametrics

To gain support for a regulated work environment, South Africa-based e-hailing drivers have participated in protests many times. Their demands often included better working conditions, improved commissions, better security for drivers, and the stoppage of a trend that saw drivers get blocked without reason.

The above requests point to one thing: regulation. The ten-year-old industry deserves a clear set of rules, and it must happen soon. A three-month ban from operating in Soweto Malls coupled with the existing challenges isn’t ideal, and only screams injustice. 

The Bill in question recently hit a roadblock on the road to passage after the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) rejected it, calling it “unconstitutional” because the legislation threatened to take away much of its power.

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!

Register for Technext Coinference 2023, the Largest blockchain and DeFi Gathering in Africa.

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!