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BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL WITH A CAPE TOWN UBER DRIVER

Which Uber passengers are the best tippers? Who do Uber drivers dread? What makes a well-adjusted person, and what does this Uber driver dream of for his sons? SHIRLEY FAIRALL got a ride with Cape Town Uber Man MAPHANGA MASEKO, who says his stories could make your hair stand on end
Maphanga (43) grew up in the town of Phuthaditjhaba (try saying that fast) near Harrismith in South Africa’s Free State. His father, a farm worker, died when he was just 14, leaving his domestic worker mother as sole parent to him and his four brothers. He lives in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, with his wife Mami, formerly a restaurant manager and now a full-time mother to their two sons, Zanele (16) and Mohlodi (10)

‘I’M A TOUR GUIDE with my own business specialising in the winelands, but three years ago I started driving for Uber between seasons. I own my own car, have done more than 12,000 trips, and have a rating of 4.9 out of 5. These days it’s cheaper to use Uber than own a car, so more and more people are getting rid of their cars and using it as their main form of transport.

Tour guiding and Ubering both enable me to do my favourite thing – interact with people. I especially enjoy meeting the different nationalities. Americans are my favourite: they’re friendly and talkative, and tip quite well.

My fellow South Africans amuse me. Some are great, though others are entitled prima donnas who demand that I turn the aircon on then off, open the window then close it, berating me all the while. South African kids are always polite although they do like their music very loud!

Maphanga has more than 12,000 trips under his belt and a 4.9 star rating – what a champ! | Photo: Leentjie du Preez (www.gracephotography.co.za)

No two working days are the same. Sometimes I start work at 5am taking passengers to the airport. Later in the morning, 80% of my customers are going to work, university or school. During the day I take passengers to town and shopping malls or do more airport runs, and at the end of the day I take workers home.

Sometimes I work through the night. I could tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end, but I don’t think your readers will appreciate them. Let’s just say people sometimes think they’re in a bedroom rather than in a taxi! I can tell you the one thing that all Uber drivers dread: passengers who are sick in the car after a wild night on the town.

What is it with some passengers who can’t make up their mind about the aircon?  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

Luckily, we have the right to cancel any trip if we’re uncomfortable, and Uber automatically deducts a hefty cleaning fee from passengers who are sick because the car must be professionally valeted, and the driver can’t work until it’s clean. More and more people are drinking now, even kids as young as 12. I know the dangers so well: my father was killed by an ambulance when he was drunkenly trying to cross a road, so I don’t drink alcohol. There are lots of drugs too. I’ve had people who are high in the car, and when I’ve stopped at roadblocks, the police have found drugs on my passengers.

Humility is key to being well-adjusted, Maphanga believes |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

Luckily there’s often a lighter side, too. Once I had Afrikaans-speaking passengers in the car and they started talking about me, not realising I was fluent in Afrikaans. Fortunately, they were saying nice things about my looks. I didn’t let on that I understood until I wished them a good evening in Afrikaans as they got out. They were embarrassed but we had a good laugh! Sometimes scary things happen: thieves posing as passengers have tried to steal from me, but Uber fits a panic button in all its drivers’ cars so it’s now hard to commit a crime against us.

Seen anything cooler than Maphanga in shades today?  |  Photo: Leentjie du Preez

Coming into contact with so many people has taught me a few things about human nature. My main observation is that we all need to be more patient with each other. We’re too quick to judge and don’t take the time to understand different cultures. The race card is played so quickly by some. This really has to change!

I think well-adjusted people are those who are grounded in humility. Being able to forgive others also makes for a successful life, I think. This is my greatest weakness and I have to work on it! I have to remind myself that there’s only one judge and that’s God. People ask me why I believe in Him. My answer is simple: just look around you at this beautiful world. I also have very real evidence of Him working in my life. I’ve survived three car accidents and two hijackings. I truly believe I would have been dead long ago if He weren’t taking care of me.

Maphanga with his wife Mami and sons Mohlodi (above) and Zanele (below). ‘My dream is for my boys to follow their passions, plus respect God,’ he says.

Racial tension is the thing most likely to keep me awake at night. I pray for our leader, for another Nelson Mandela. I think God put us here to love one another. Personally, my hope for my two boys is not to be Uber drivers, rather to own 100 Uber cars! But ultimately, my dream for them is that they follow their passions and respect God.

I’m currently studying an online theology degree, part-sponsored by CRC [Christian Revival Church] in Cape Town: I’m not sure where it’s going to take me. It makes me pretty busy, but in my down time I love to be with my family. We appreciate being able to drive out of town, we go hiking and to the beach. Our favourite thing of all is to strap bikes to the back of the car and go mountain biking. That’s my preferred mode of transport!’

 
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