Lexi* and her friend had been enjoying a Saturday night out at a popular restaurant in Sandton City and decided to do the responsible thing and call a cab to get home. They never imagined that the trip would turn into something out of a horror story.
“From the moment I got into the car, I had an uneasy feeling. I wish I had listened to my gut instinct, but I thought I was being silly and we were only going to Morningside from Sandton, which was not a far ride,” says Lexi.
A couple of minutes later, Lexi realised that they were not heading in the direction of Morningside at all.
“When I realised that we were going in the wrong direction, I asked the cab driver which route he was taking,” explains Lexi. “He then told me that he needed to make a stop in Kempton Park, which is completely in the opposite direction to Morningside. I then asked him to stop the car and let us out, but that is when he turned aggressive and started shouting at us.”
Scared for their lives, Lexi subtly took her phone out of her bag and requested assistance through her emergency app. She was careful not to let the driver see her, but she knew from being a frequent tester of the app that she needed to answer her phone in order for the Operator to track her location.
When we spoke to the Operator on duty that night, she recalls the phone call she made to Lexi.
“When Lexi answered the phone, she was sobbing uncontrollably,” says the Operator. “We are trained to try and calm the user down so that we can get the necessary information, but something told me that this call was different, and so I just listened.”
The Operator was correct. Lexi had answered the phone but muted the Operator so that the driver wouldn’t know that she had requested help.
“I quickly established they weren’t talking to me, but that she was giving me clues about her situation. She was being held against her will. It was a terrible call to listen to and I knew I had to get her help as soon as I could.”
The Operator used the in-app chat feature to communicate further with Lexi. She also got her colleague to call SAPS whilst she alerted the Namola Watch network. Namola Watch consists of community safety initiatives that have signed up to assist their fellow South Africans to get help fast in emergency situations.
Martin*, a Watch responder on duty that night, was closest to the emergency incident and was one of the first to receive the alert on his app.
“Being part of Namola Watch, I was able to join the in-app chat conversation between the User and the Operator. Lexi and her friend confirmed they were being held against their will and that the driver was threatening to kill them,” says Martin. “Luckily the Safety app updates the user’s real-time location from their GPS coordinates, so we were able to follow them even though the car was moving.”
There was another win for the response teams when the cab driver stopped the car at an isolated petrol station.
“He stopped the car and demanded our mobile phones,” says Lexi. ”I managed to hide mine in my shoe, but he took my friend’s phone. He then locked us in the car. We tried to get out and run, but we couldn’t open the doors.”
Unknown to Lexi and her friend, the car stopping was a blessing in disguise. Martin and the SAPS officers who had been chasing the car’s location were now able to catch up to the rogue cab. They found the girls locked in the car, hysterical, but relieved to see that help had arrived. Lexi and her friend were asked to go to the police station and lay a charge.
The Namola app team spoke to Lexi and her friend a couple of days later to see how they were doing.
“We are doing much better, still shaken by the experience. We have laid a charge against the driver and have taken it up with his company of employment. The police are investigating the matter further,” says Lexi. “We are just so grateful to the app for their fast service. You never think that you will need to use the app, but what a relief to know that when you do use it, it works so well. I honestly believe that if I had not had the Namola app on my phone that we wouldn’t be here today.”
“The responsible thing to do is not to drink and drive,” says Maanda Tshifularo, Head of Namola’s sponsor, Dialdirect. ”However, it is also your responsibility to ensure that the car you are getting into matches your e-hailing riders app.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities of those involved as investigations continue.