Pietermaritzburg man and his girlfriend were left battered, bruised and traumatised after they were kidnapped and tortured in Johannesburg recently.
The attackers are believed to be a driver for well-known international taxi service Uber, and his accomplices.
However, Uber spokesperson Samantha Allenberg would not confirm that it was indeed a registered Uber driver involved in the attack, as the matter was still under police investigation.
The couple hailed an Uber taxi via the cellphone app in the early hours of August 28 after a night at a popular Johannesburg nightclub.
A close relative relayed how his niece and her boyfriend were kidnapped, stabbed and the woman raped during their eight-hour ordeal.
The Pietermaritzburg man lives and works at an insurance company in Gauteng while his partner, formerly from Durban, moved to Johannesburg just three weeks ago to take up a new job.
According to the relative, who asked not be named to protect the woman’s identity, his niece and her friends ordered three Uber taxis to take the group home, but the 26-year-old and her boyfriend were the only ones to share one taxi home at around 2.30 am.
“Everything was in place and pointed to the signs that it was a legitimate Uber taxi. They only noticed something was wrong when the driver passed the turn-off they were supposed to take,” said the uncle.
He said two men, who were hiding in the boot of the vehicle, pushed the back seats forward and stabbed the 26-year-old boyfriend before dragging the couple into the boot of the vehicle.
“They were then driven to an ATM in Tembisa, where she was forced to withdraw R3 000. However, she used her mother’s bank card and her mother was immediately alerted to the withdrawal via SMS,” he said.
The woman’s mother, who lives in Durban, immediately tried to contact her daughter and her boyfriend, but neither answered their cellphones.
“This was when her mother started contacting her daughter’s cousins and friends to see where she was. The friends who were at the club with them were already at home and began to worry,” he said.
Then began a frantic search for the couple by family and friends.
Meanwhile, the couple were blindfolded and their hands and feet bound with cable-ties, and driven to a house in Tembisa, a township north of Kempton Park, where they were held hostage.
They were only found by local residents around 11 am on the morning of August 28 after the couple managed to gain the attention of a child playing on the road.
“For eight hours, they were beaten and stabbed and my niece was raped. There were three men in the vehicle when the initial attack happened, but a fourth man joined them at the house during the morning,” the uncle said.
At the house, the brutality worsened when the Pietermaritzburg man failed to transfer a large sum of money to the kidnappers’ bank account, using one of their laptops.
“They were traumatised and brutally attacked for hours. It was only divine intervention that saved them,” the uncle said.
He said the man, bound by cable ties, managed to pull the curtain off its rails when they were left alone and saw the child playing on the road. It is believed the child alerted her family and the neighbours approached the house.
“When the men found out the community knew something was going on in the house, they fled. People in the community smashed the window and held their hands and kept telling them the police were on the way.
“The men had told them that they were going to kill them. When the community members smashed the window, the couple cried and asked them not to leave them there,” he said.
Police broke down the door and freed the couple. Their attackers are still at large.
Police spokesperson Captain Lefibana Molokomme said police were investigating a case of kidnapping and rape.
“There have been no arrests made as yet, but we are working around the clock to apprehend the suspects,” he said.
He urged anyone with information to contact the station at 011 391 1814.TAXI service Uber is accused of refusing to assist frantic family and friends to track down the whereabouts of the taxi the couple were abducted in.
Statement From Uber
The uncle of the young woman attacked said the couple’s friends contacted Uber via social media and the cellphone app, but the response only included a link to the company’s e-mail address as it does not have a call centre.
“Uber mentioned they were unable to provide details of the driver, his trips and refused to assist with contacting the driver of the Uber.
“Uber failed to respond on social media platforms to strong keywords being used such as hijack, kidnap etc,” read a post on the incident on Uber’s Facebook page.
The post has since been widely distributed on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other social media platforms.
Some lashed out at the company, saying they would not use the taxi service any longer.
“As much as I use Uber for its convenience and ease of availability, whether or not this Uber was hijacked or not and/or the driver was involved or not, Uber chose not to assist whatsoever in locating the rider and chose not to assist in a critical situation without any alacrity that may have sped up the process of finding the couple, and in the most dire circumstance saved a life if the worst had to happen,” read the post.
UBER spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said she could not confirm if the attackers were registered Uber drivers, but added that the company was assisting police with their investigation.
She urged riders to check that their driver’s photo, name, vehicle and vehicle registration matched the details provided in the Uber app, before getting into the car.
The family was adamant that it was a registered Uber vehicle and that the driver and other details matched, Allenberg said she could not comment further.
She said while there had been a delayed response in assisting the couple’s family and friends in tracking down the vehicle, Uber’s incident response team had since contacted the couple and their families to offer support.
However, Uber said on its Facebook page that the information concerning the incident should have been escalated to the company’s head of trust and safety immediately upon receipt.
“The customer service representative did not follow our internal escalation processes and we will deal with this internally. Please know that we take matters like this extremely seriously and that we will be taking necessary action,” read the response from the Uber social media team.
Allenberg said they would continue to provide police with information “to support their efforts to bring whoever is responsible to justice”.
“This is a despicable crime and our first thoughts are with the victims and their families …” she said.
Beyond the driver screening processes, riders were also able to track all trips using GPS from beginning to end, and to share their estimated time of arrival and route with others, Allenberg said.