Uber driver still has “flashbacks” of acid attacks

Kgomotso Tiro was attacked by a passenger with acid on the 6th of August. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

Kgomotso Tiro, an Uber driver cannot believe he is alive to share his traumatic and life threatening experience. He has just been discharged from Helen Joseph Hospital. He spoke of how he narrowly missed death on the night of the 6th of August 2017 when an unknown assailant disguised as a passenger dragged him to an isolated place, poured him with an acid and set him alight.

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Kgomotso Tiro, an Uber driver cannot believe he is alive to share his traumatic and life threatening experience. He has just been discharged from Helen Joseph Hospital. He spoke of how he narrowly missed death on the night of the 6th of August 2017 when an unknown assailant disguised as a passenger dragged him to an isolated place, poured him with an acid and set him alight.

“This happened before we could even arrive at his destination. Quickly, he said, stop the car. To my shock, he took out a little container and pour me with the chemical inside. It landed on my body and my hands as I tried to shield myself. He poured me three times before he set me alight. While I was burning, he was laughing,” he said clearly looking shattered. The burn marks on his face and hands wrapped with bandages also tell the horrible story.

He said he managed to survive by quickly getting out of the car, rolling on the ground and had the luck of good samaritans to call an ambulance. All this happened somewhere in Roodeport, a reputed hotspot for Uber related violence. But on that day he didn’t doubt his security as the client assured him that it was safe.

Although details of the motive are still sketchy, he suspected hijacking since his car was taken during this heinous crime. Police are busy with investigations. His story is one of too many that has mired Uber in controversy and conflict with rival, meter taxis. In the process, drivers have lost their lives while authorities are trying to find a long lasting solutions.

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Kgomotso (34) said when he retired from his previous employers and started working for Uber in March this year, he didn’t know this could happen to him. In his mind, he saw Uber as an opportunity to make a better living, support his siblings and a frail mother back in Zeerust where he originates. He doesn’t regret his decision to work for Uber but after this incident he can’t say if he will ever go back to work.

“I still have flashbacks. The face of this man laughing at me still stuck in my head. I don’t think I’ll be able to drive any passenger sitting behind or next to me.” He has yet to receive psychological help.

Kgomotso Tiro is still haunted by the acid attack. Pic by Ramatamo Sehoai

What makes the job more risky, as Emmauel Matwa, another Uber drive put it, is what are called cash trips. This is the payment method that drivers and passengers can use if they can’t use credit cards. Unfortunately this has exposed them to violent theft as this method can easily be manipulated and Uber is reluctant to stop it. ” Cash trips don’t have a photo verification system. Here emails and cell numbers can easily be faked so whatever happens to you as the driver cannot be traced,” he said.

Although Uber is increasingly becoming dangerous, drivers are not willing to quit. “When we look at instalments we are paying on our cars and other responsibilities, quitting cannot be an easier decision. We just hope management will heed our call and improve the system,” said Zweli Ngwenya, another Uber driver. He also complains that the police and the government are not doing enough to end conflicts and violence in Uber.

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Meanwhile, a senior representative of Uber talking on the radio said they have tried several times to contact and meet Kgomotso but were denied access. Kgomotso refuted this vehemently and said what they did was to only give his girlfriend money saying it was for medical expenses. He said he is not willing to use that money before he meets with Uber.

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