Family of slain Bolt driver demands tighter in-app security

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 13 Apr 2023

Relatives of slain Bolt driver partner Euston Mnguni are urging the e-hailing company to beef up driver security on its app, noting the in-app SOS service is “useless” when it comes to saving lives during a crime incident.

In early March, 28-year-old Mnguni was shot four times after being hijacked by criminals masquerading as riders, whom he had picked up at Glen Austin in Midrand.

He was a University of Johannesburg law graduate who worked for the e-hailing firm on a part-time basis, to raise funds for his honours degree, which he planned to do next year.

His distraught brother, Melithemba Mnguni, told ITWeb that if Bolt had stringent customer on-boarding processes and efficient security on the app, his brother would probably still be alive today.

In the first week of March, Bolt partnered with the Automobile Association (AA) to trial its new emergency SOS button located within the Bolt app’s Safety Toolkit.

The system shares smartphone GPS coordinates with the police or emergency services, which can be dispatched to the user's location without a phone call, according to Bolt.

However, Mnguni is adamant the in-app security does not work as intended, and is more focused on protecting Bolt riders than driver partners.

“The emergency SOS service on the Bolt app is useless, not efficient and it cannot be used during life-threatening emergency situations. Unfortunately, there are many untold stories of Bolt drivers dying every day at the hands of criminals. Why couldn’t this emergency feature save their lives?

“During a crime-related emergency, once a driver presses the panic button, the emergency response team have to phone back to confirm there is indeed an emergency – an act that further annoys the criminal, making them even more dangerous.

“It also takes another 10 to 15 minutes before the response team arrives on the scene. By then, the criminals would have either fled the scene or injured the driver,” explains Mnguni, who is secretary of e-Hailing Partners Council.

Another concern, according to Mnguni, is that the security available on the app is more focused on resolving a post-incident emergency, rather than preventing it from happening in the first place.

Providing examples of how Bolt could beef up emergency preventative security on the app, he notes more stringent verification of customer on-boarding processes, such as facial recognition tools like that of the new BozaRide e-hailing app, are required.

He also recommends connecting riders’ Bolt profiles to their social media accounts, to ensure their accurate identity is stored.

“On the Uber app, all riders must link their account to their social media accounts and they must link their banking cards to their Uber profile, despite them having the option to use cash. Uber also has an audio recording feature which can be played back when an incident happens. Why has Bolt not introduced these technologies which are focused specifically on protecting drivers?

“When I went to identify my brother’s body at the morgue, the Community Policing Forum told me that 386 e-hailing drivers were murdered in South Africa in the line of duty between January 2021 and January 2022, with an overwhelming majority being Bolt drivers. Over the years, we have been complaining to Bolt about security but nothing has been done about it.”

Four suspects were arrested on charges of murder and hijacking in the matter, and their bail hearing has been postponed to 17 April.

Melithemba Mnguni, brother of murdered Euston Mnguni and secretary of  the e-Hailing Partners Council.
Melithemba Mnguni, brother of murdered Euston Mnguni and secretary of the e-Hailing Partners Council.

The past few years have seen e-hailing drivers hold nationwide protests, urging government to intervene in the increasing incidences of crimes they are subjected to at the hands of criminals and rival metered taxi operators.

Since inception, the industry has been tainted by incidents of violent attacks, and in some instances, drivers being hijacked or killed.

Responding to Mnguni’s complaints, Takura Malaba, regional manager, east and southern Africa at Bolt, told ITWeb in an e-mail interview that Bolt is continuously developing safety features and tools that have a real impact on addressing the safety concerns of drivers and passengers.

“Crime in our country continues to be a national issue of great concern. The safety of drivers is of paramount importance to us and over 90% of all trips that are rated receive five stars.

“The SOS button, if used, alerts private armed response teams and private emergency medical rescue to respond to calls when passengers and drivers are in need of urgent assistance. Response times vary based on location.”

In terms of tightening the passenger on-boarding process, Malaba points out Bolt requires all new riders to authenticate themselves using a one-time PIN when setting up a new profile.

“Unfortunately, some criminals look to exploit this for personal gain, which is why we are currently, as a priority, investigating ways to enhance our rider verification to stop this criminality.

“We also have very strict codes of conduct and conditions of use for passengers across all the categories on the platform. We never hesitate to permanently suspend any person, driver, or passenger who contravenes these conditions of use.”

According to Malaba, the Mnguni family was encouraged to apply for counselling and claim for financial support from Bolt’s insurance partner, Oaksure, to assist them during this difficult period. The process is still underway. 

Bolt has also shared the trip details with the police to assist with the investigation to ensure justice is served.

“Bolt is participating in ongoing work and outreach with the South African Police Service to root out criminal behaviour in the transportation sector and fully cooperates with any work and investigations they do in this regard.”