Mobile phone incentive to rid Johannesburg’s township of rats

October 29, 2012

Africa, International

Mobile phone incentive to rid Johannesburg’s township of rats

David Smith
The Sydney Morning Herald

As it was in medieval Hamelin, so it is today in the South African township of Alexandra: wherever you go, you are never far from a rat.   But residents of the Johannesburg suburb have been offered a deal unavailable in the era of the Pied Piper – a free mobile phone for every resident who catches 60 of the rodents.

Alexandra was the young Nelson Mandela’s first home when he moved to Johannesburg. Its cramped shacks and illegal rubbish dumps sit in brutal contrast with neighbouring Sandton, dubbed the wealthiest three square kilometres in Africa.   The crumbling structures, leaking sewage and discarded piles of rotting food, are a perfect breeding ground for rats, much to the torment of residents. There have reportedly been cases of children’s fingers being bitten while they sleep.

In an attempt to fight back, city officials have distributed cages and the mobile phone company 8ta has sponsored the volunteer ratcatchers.   One resident, Joseph Mothapo, says he has won two phones and plans to get one for each member of his family. “It’s easy,” he told South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper, wielding a large cage containing rats. “You put your leftover food inside and the rats climb in, getting caught as the trap door closes.”   But there were signs that the PR stunt could backfire, as animals rights activists criticised the initiative on social networks.   On Monday 8ta denied responsibility for the initiative. It said it was a long-time sponsor of a charity called Lifeline, which had taken the decision to hand out phones.   “You will have to ask Lifeline why they decided to use these promotional products,” said Pynee Chetty, an 8ta spokesman. “They do a lot of good community work, including in Alexandra. They used the promotional material to incentivise members of the community. I wasn’t aware this is how they were going to resolve the problem [of rats].”   The Mail and Guardian reported that thousands of rats had been gassed at the local sports centre. “We record all the people’s details so we can see where the rats are causing the biggest problem,” a specialist, Ashford Sidzumo, was quoted as saying. “We use this to send fumigation teams there.”   One local councillor, Julie Moloi, told the Mail & Guardian there had been no choice but to carry out the drastic experiment. “We are afraid these rats will take over Alex and it will become a city of rats,” she said.   In another measure, owls have been given to three local schools because of their rat-catching prowess. But wider deployment of the birds might be difficult: Ms Moloi said people kill them because of traditional beliefs that they are to be feared.


Video: Owls to tackle rat problem in Johannesburg South Africa

Video: Rats in Alexandra 



Alexandra township, Gauteng has a population of nearly 170,000 and is located close to the wealthy suburb of Sandton just north of Johannesburg.

President Zuma attends the 100 years celebration of a Legendary Township, Alexandra




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