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Mobile South Africa Rats exchanged for mobile phones in Johannesburg township

Rats exchanged for mobile phones in Johannesburg township

ratattack

Residents from Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township have caught 11,000 rats and handed them in to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in exchange for over one hundred mobile phones.

The initiative, which is the brainchild of an NGO called LifeLine, plans to prevent the township from turning into a “rat city”.

According to officials at LifeLine, about 100 to 200 community members in September 2011 were given rat cages to set up in their yards, neighbours’ properties, as well as locations where the rodents are known for inhabiting.

The NGO then told each person that if they catch 60 rats, they would receive a free Huawei U120 mobile phone. The rodents are then handed over to the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), which then decides how many rats, for instance, should be given to scientists for research purposes.

Subsequently, LifeLine has handed over 180 mobile phones to community members, with some people getting as many as two handsets. Lifeline says that the phones are handed out every three months.

Semoreeng Matsafu, LifeLine manager for Alexandra and Soweto offices, explained to ITWeb Africa that the idea came about after mobile operator 8ta donated too many mobile phones to the NGO.

Volunteers of the NGO used the devices, but the organisation decided to use the remaining handsets as part of its rat exchange project.

“We embarked on a project where we talked to the community about the rat issue and it was also a way for us to draw community and get them to physically get involved,” Matsafu told ITWeb Africa.

Iris Maliboho, community liaison officer at LifeLine, adds that the initiative has become popular among community members.

“Community members set up the traps to catch the rats and take them to a stadium in Alex where they hand them over to officials from the City of Joburg (CoJ). They can do this from Monday to Friday and people sometimes catch 5 to 20 rats overnight,” she said.

It is unclear what the rat population in Joburg stands at, according to Professor Oldewage of the zoology department at the University of Johannesburg.

But she told ITWeb Africa that heavy rains in Johannesburg this year could have resulted in a booming rat population, especially as the species is renowned for breeding fast.

“Rats continuously reproduce, and they reproduce in large numbers,” she said.

“A rat female has got two uteri, a double set of uterus: that’s why they could have so many babies, and they could have them frequently.

“So, if you have an ideal situation with rubbish dumps and water, then the population can shoot right through the roof in terms of numbers, which makes it very difficult to control,” she added.

Professor Oldewage, though, does question the initiative by LifeLine, saying it could be open to corrupt manipulation by those seeking to breed rats, obtain phones and then sell the handsets on the market.

“You might find people breeding rats to fulfill the quota, because it’s not very difficult.

“If you’re really an entrepreneur, it’s very easy to set that up: a primary school kid could keep rats.

“Sixty rats is not that many to breed,” she said.