The ups and downs of South Africa’s e-hailing sector

With over three million platforms users combined, we take a look at some of the highs and lows of South Africa’s biggest e-hailing companies, Bolt and Uber. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

With over three million platforms users combined, we take a look at some of the highs and lows of South Africa’s biggest e-hailing companies, Bolt and Uber. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published Oct 27, 2023


Since the birth of the e-hailing sector in South Africa, the market has been embedded with duality, in the form of successes and challenges.

From providing convenience when you need it, to being at the centre of criminal syndicates preying on women, the e-hailing sector has had its fair share of wins and loses.

IOL spoke to both Bolt and Uber, two of the country’s biggest operators, about their South African journey so far.

Uber has been operating in SA since 2013 and are active in nearly 30 cities, according to Kagiso Khaole, general manager for Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Latest statistics from Uber indicate that it has 20,000 drivers and delivery people working under the Uber and Uber Eats platforms.

Uber has over 2.1 million active platform users in South Africa (across all platforms).

“In recent years, Uber South Africa has achieved several significant milestones and successes,” Khaole said.

“We've not only transformed how people and goods move across our cities but have also created a platform that offers independent and flexible earning opportunities for drivers and convenient, reliable mobility for riders.”

Women empowerment, safety and economic empowerment were some of the company’s biggest achievements in the domestic market thus far, Khaole explained.

The number of women drivers for the company increased from 3.5% to about 8%.

“In March 2023, we launched #GigSister, a community-based platform, along with a partnership with Google and L’Oreal to provide access to resources to help women drivers thrive on the platform,” Khaole said.

“We have over 650 women-owned businesses on the Uber Eats platform.”

But 2019 was not the best year for Uber, to say the least, as reports of Uber drivers raping women surfaced.

In February 2019, four women reported that they were raped by their Uber driver and his accomplices in Johannesburg, Gauteng, White Ribbon reported.

The four suspects were accused of several crimes which they facilitated through the app.

Khaole also said safety has been one of the platform's biggest challenges.

“Safety is another challenge that we continue to face on the continent; which is why we are continuously looking at ways to innovate in response to the safety risks that moving around comes with.”

Bolt, which has been operating in South Africa for the last seven years, said over a million people use the platform.

Bolt’s regional manager for East and Southern Africa, Takura Malaba, expressed a similar sentiment as Uber, in that it has made strides in ensuring women employment numbers are up and that crime worries are addressed.

Bolt also introduced a ‘lite’ option, which focuses on being more cost efficient.

“We cemented our commitment to drive more participation and inclusion for women in technology by launching a six-month-long internship to offer six selected female candidates an opportunity to kickstart their careers in an exciting role that challenges them to think outside the box in different departments such as Operations, Public Relations, Marketing, Public Policy, Bolt Business and Bolt Food,” Malaba said.

But the company has had to stay in constant engagement to work on resolutions around the issues of crime.

“Crimes against e-hailing drivers continue to be a national issue of great concern, and the safety of passengers and drivers who use the Bolt platform is of utmost importance to us,” Malaba said.

Last year, a Bolt driver was brought up on two charges of rape, two of kidnapping and two more for robbery, according to the National Prosecuting Authority in Gauteng.

The 25-year-old could not be named because of the sensitivity of the case.

Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo said the suspect was arrested at Kya Sands informal settlement and made his first court appearance on March 1, 2022.

Two more victims came out with allegations against the suspect after he appeared at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court.

E-hailing drivers have also been on the other end of crime, as the introduction of the new transport system drew a negative response from the long-standing minibus taxi community.

Earlier this year, local media reported that Uber and Bolt drivers in Soweto claim to live in fear for their lives, as they were under fire from the taxi community.

This was during the time of the tensions at Maponya Mall, where e-hailing drivers were shot and assaulted and their vehicles burnt.

In March this year, Bolt driver partner Euston Mnguni was shot dead by suspects who posed as passengers in Midrand, IT Web reported.

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.