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Yom Tov tragedy: Orlianski’s death leaves unanswered questions

  • TaliORTambo3
Yom Tov was spent in the ICU ward praying and hoping for a miracle,” says Daniel Witz, the son-in-law of 71-year-old Zalman Orlianski, who was critically injured in an altercation with an Uber driver over a parking space at OR Tambo International Airport, where he was collecting his family for Rosh Hashanah on Sunday. Orlianski passed away in hospital before Yom Kippur.
by TALI FEINBERG | Sep 20, 2018

The family’s lives were changed in an instant on Sunday morning, when “I was contacted by my brother-in-law that my father-in-law had just been assaulted at the airport and immediately rushed to get there and help my family,” says Witz. “We then went to Arwyp Medical Centre in Kempton Park, where my father-in-law received urgent medical treatment. He was in critical condition in ICU with facial and head injuries. After fighting until the very end, he passed away on Sunday, 16 September. The funeral took place at West Park Jewish Cemetery on Tuesday.

The Uber driver, Tebogo Makhalemele‚ 30‚ from Daveyton‚ appeared at the Kempton Park Regional Court on Monday morning on a charge of murder, and applied for bail. In his affidavit, he pleaded not guilty to the murder charge because he said he had acted in self-defence, and that he had co-operated with police by handing himself over.

Makhalemele also said that he was the breadwinner of his family‚ providing for his mother‚ long-time girlfriend, and seven-year-old daughter. He was self-employed as an Uber driver‚ earning about R4 000 a month.

During Makhalemele’s bail application in Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, the state opposed bail. State Prosecutor Alex Nkosi said: "We heard from the [investigating officer] how [Makhalemele] continued to attack an elderly man‚ even when he was helpless. The applicant punched the deceased more than 15 times‚" Nkosi told the court," reported Times Live. Bail was denied and the case was postponed to 26 October.

Uber South Africa confirmed to the SA Jewish Report that Makhalemele had been one of its registered drivers, and offered condolences on Orlianski’s passing. “It’s heartbreaking that this has happened, and I continue to be in touch with the family,” Uber South Africa Chief Executive Alon Lits told the SA Jewish Report.

In a further statement, Uber South Africa spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said, “This is incredibly sad news, our hearts go out to the family, and we will continue to stay in touch with them to offer our support. We trust that law enforcement and the judicial systems will do their best to ensure that justice prevails. We stand ready to help police with any additional information needed for their investigation.

“This violent and aggressive behaviour is completely unacceptable, and upon learning of it, we immediately removed the driver’s access to the app,” she said. “We have been in close contact with law enforcement to provide them with as much information as possible, which led to the suspect’s arrest.

She said all drivers had to undergo Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) background screening by a third-party professional who leads the industry. An AFIS screening is when all fingerprints captured are checked electronically against the South African Police Service (SAPS) database. “Prior to this individual’s deactivation and arrest, he held a valid professional driver’s permit, and he had cleared all background checks.”

“The family are heartbroken by this terrible trauma,” Witz said, “but the community has been unbelievable in offering support. It is not limited to the South African community. The family has been receiving strength from all over the world every second of every day since last Sunday.”

However he feels that the airport has been less supportive: “The airport released a statement without consulting the family first, and since the incident occurred, no representative of the airport has reached out to the family.”

He said that in his view, the airport’s statement was “factually incorrect” after viewing the footage himself, and that “a witness from the incident confirms that airport security did not effectively separate the individuals, did not detain the suspect, nor attend to the injured man, and the witness [a bystander] was the only person assisting the injured man before paramedics arrived”.

OR Tambo International Airport spokesperson Leigh Gunkel-Keuler told the SA Jewish Report that its statement was “not a knee-jerk reaction”, and that the airport had reviewed hours of video before releasing its statement. At the same time, she said, part of the scene was out of view of the footage.

“It appeared the conflict was resolved at one point, and then it re-ignited when the one man returned with his three passengers,” she said. It was this moment when the altercation descended into chaos, and Orlianski was severely injured.

According to an OR Tambo International Airport statement shortly after the incident, “The airport security officer can be seen in the video attempting to separate the individuals and resolve matters throughout the altercation, which lasted about four minutes. Additional airport security officers arrived on the scene within five minutes. SAPS officers and paramedics arrived on the scene at about 10:35. The injured person was transported to hospital by paramedics by 10:39. Airport management has provided the necessary video footage to the SAPS, which is investigating the assault.”

National Police Spokesperson Vish Naidoo said it was “a typical case of road rage. A security guard was there and tried profusely to separate the two motorists, but one was extremely persistent and provoking.”

He said that the police were taking statements from witnesses, gathering evidence, and investigating the facts. He appealed to journalists and the public to allow the investigation to proceed without jumping to conclusions or interpretations.

Orlianski and his wife Inna had been married for 34 years, and had three children: Isa‚ Jonathan, and Zvi, and two grandchildren. He left Lithuania at the age of 26, and moved to Israel before coming to South Africa in 1980. He built up a successful electrical engineering business that specialised in highly sophisticated automatic equipment like robotics, and he had an MBA.

“His entire reason for being was his family. He had incredible values and morals, he was a man of integrity, a loyal friend, and the most hard working, determined businessman, always loyal to his customers,” says Witz. “He taught us about perseverance, forgiveness, leadership, hard work, and, most of all, he taught us about putting family first. He had a deep love for his religion, and was always willing to help out his community, and a fellow Jew.”

His daughter, Dr Isa Orlianski Witz, said, “He is my world, I felt his love every day of my life. If there was a problem or a celebration, he could never get there quick enough. His presence, his energy, his infectious laugh, you could feel it as he entered the room. He fell in love with my mom the moment he met her, and he loved her wholeheartedly.”

His son, Jonathan, said, “The hard-work ethic that my father demonstrated every day, he instilled in me, and I can only continue to honour him by facing any challenge. The most precious value in Judaism is life, and he loved life.”

3 Comments

  1. 3 Devora Even-Tov 20 Sep
    Baruch Dayan Haemet
    May the family know no more sorrow. 
    My prayers and thoughts are with the family.
    What a tragic loss 
  2. 2 Irving Freeman 20 Sep
    How can anyone expect the SAPS  to do anything against the taxidrivers who are their cousins or brothers.
  3. 1 Dr C D Goldberg 04 Oct
    This disgusting incident has to be investigated in a comprehensive and thorough manner. Drivers who work for Uber or Taxify and any other taxi service or industry, must be subject to ridged medical and psychological screening at their own expense if needs be, before they are allowed to take passengers on the road, and need to be issued with a special PDP License specific to this type of industry, and any offenders should have their licenses revoked with immediate effect and placed on a global (international) register. The same should apply to the minibus taxi drivers and related officials. An absolute zero tolerance approach is needed in this regard.

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