Rats become currency for phones in South African township

LifeLine Southern Africa, a nonprofit focused on crisis intervention, has received 11,000 rats to trade in for more than 100 mobile phones to combat the “rat menace” in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township.

LifeLine’s environmental-friendly initiative comes after the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) supplied 200 rat cages to locals to collect the pest creatures. The exchange rate for a Huawei U120 cell phone currently stands at 60 rats.  

LifeLine has since handed out 180 mobile phones to date.  The rats are afterwards handed over to scientists for lab research. Some community members have already received two handsets at the exchange sessions held at a sport stadium from September last year.

Mobile phones have been provided through telecoms operator 8ta’s sponsorship, Semoreeng Matsafu, LifeLine manager for Alexandra and Soweto offices, said.

“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 said.

This endeavour has become very popular among the residents of Alexandra.

 “People sometimes catch 5 to 2o rats overnight,” Iris Malibho, LifeLine’s community liaison officer, commented.

Although the rat population is currently uncertain, according to Professor Oldewage of the Zoology Department at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the heavy rains could have resulted in extreme growth of rat population. Rodents breed at an alarming pace as the female has a double uterus.

 According to the Mail and Guardian reports, the area provides conducive conditions for rats to breed. The sewerage system and taps leak, dumped food keeps them fat and piles of rubble give them space for palatial rat homes. At night, still-warm car engines provide them with heat. With human overcrowding and a huge growth in Alexandra’s population, the rat population has been booming and locals are now terrified of the rodents.

Oldewage pointed out that although the initiative is a good way to keep the community involved with its improvement, it could result in more rat breeding in order to acquire phones for market sales.

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