Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 6 News List

‘Pied Piper’ policy gives S African rat catchers free phone

The Guardian, JOHANNESBURG

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.

Yet 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 has just turned 100 years old and was the young former South African president Nelson Mandela’s first home when he moved to Johannesburg. Its cramped shacks and illegal rubbish dumps sit in brutal contrast with neighboring Sandton, dubbed the wealthiest 3km3 in Africa.

The crumbling structures, leaking sewage and discarded piles of rotting food, are a perfect breeding ground for rats. 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.

Resident Joseph Mothapo says he has won two phones and plans to get all 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.”

However, there were signs that the PR stunt could backfire, as animals rights activists criticized the initiative on social networks.

On Monday, South African mobile network provider 8ta denied responsibility for the initiative. It said it was a long-time sponsor of a charity called Lifeline, which had handed out the phones.

“You will have to ask Lifeline why they decided to use these promotional products,” 8ta spokesman Pynee Chetty said. “They do a lot of good community work, including in Alexandra. They used the promotional material to incentivize members of the community. I wasn’t aware this is how they were going to resolve the problem [of rats].”

He added: “We won’t distance ourselves from Lifeline. It is a charity that does a lot of good work and our support for them is steadfast.”

Local councilor 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.

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