E-hailing protest ends in shooting, arrest of drivers

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The two-day protest by e-hailing drivers and operators held this week ended with two Johannesburg protesters shot with rubber bullets, and seven others arrested.

On Monday and Tuesday, Uber and Bolt e-hailing drivers and operators across various provinces in SA staged what they threatened would be the “mother of all” protests, aimed at drawing government’s attention to exploitation and low wages in light of National Transport Month.

The Gauteng-based drivers and operators took their fight to the streets of Johannesburg, driving in a convoy from Zoo Lake in Parkview en route to various e-hailing offices to protest against what they call “unfair working conditions, high commissions, safety issues and the unfair blocking of drivers without any explanation”.

As they made their way back from the Bolt offices in Bryanston on Monday afternoon, the protesters clashed with police alongside William Nicol Drive in northern Johannesburg, resulting in the police firing rubber bullets at vehicles, injuring two drivers.

On the same day, seven other drivers were arrested after being accused of causing havoc and blocking the roads.

In a telephone interview with ITWeb, one of the organisers of the protest told ITWeb that one driver was badly injured, while the other sustained minor injuries.

“We are not sure exactly what led to the firing of rubber bullets by police, but I can confirm that one was badly injured and we are praying that he will pull through, because his injuries looked severe. We had taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that this was a peaceful strike; it’s unfortunate that this is how it ended,” notes the organiser.

In a strike update memo sent to the e-hailing drivers and operators, which has been seen by ITWeb, the chairperson of the Gauteng Organising Committee urges all stakeholders to provide financial assistance for the arrested protesters.

“Several protesters were arrested outside the authorised striking route while recruiting more protesters. R3 000 bail is required to bail them out. They will be appearing at the Randburg Magistrate court this week for a formal bail hearing. We therefore request contributions towards these bail payments,” reads the memo.

Police had informed marchers they were allowed to protest outside the Bolt offices only until noon and some of the marchers had refused to disperse after the time limit lapsed.

E-hailing bodies have been battling the same issues regarding their working conditions for over four years, without reaching any agreement with Bolt and Uber, and they are now calling for government’s involvement in regulating the industry.

This year alone, three protests have been held by the e-hailing drivers and operators, with issues around the percentage split between the taxi service, drivers and vehicle owners remaining at the centre of the dispute.

On Tuesday, the march ended with no reported violence. Bolt accepted the memorandum of grievances and agreed to take certain decisions that will address driver grievances and report back to its drivers and operators, according to the memo by the committee.

“We officially announce the end of our strike and we can all go back to work. We were advised to summon a section four against Bolt and its CEO Gareth Taylor to ensure that change takes place. We then went to the Randburg police station to meet with the station commander, but unfortunately, due to [the] time he had already left the office,” said a note from the committee, which was also circulated on social media.

The secretary-general of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, an affiliate of the Gauteng Organising Committee, told ITWeb: “Unfortunately, Bolt has not given in and the strike could not yield the desired outcomes; however, the message against exploitation was heard loud and clear by Bolt and its e-hailing counterparts.

“We will work hard to push e-hailing issues to the top of the agenda at government’s forthcoming Taxi Lekgotla and we shall be there to make sure that our grievances are finally resolved.”

Police ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba referred ITWeb to the South African Police Service’s Brigadier Mathapelo Peters; however, all efforts made to contact her were futile.

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