By Amy Musgrave
The Gauteng government on Thursday conceded there was a rat infestation in the province, but passed on the responsibility of dealing with the rodents to municipalities.
"We are aware that there is a rat problem, but the province cannot do anything about it because it is a municipal problem," development planning and local government representative Nanagolo Leopeng said.
"However, if for whatever reason they (municipalities) are not able to deal with the problem the provincial government will step in."
She said none of the province's municipalities had reported a rat problem to the Gauteng government, or asked for help to deal with rodents.
Community and national newspapers have recently been inundated with calls from people complaining about rats.
A daily national newspaper reported that invasions were prevalent in the Pretoria area, on the East Rand and in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg.
The problem has been blamed on ineffective waste management.
Willy Baloyi, representative for Tshwane executive mayor Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, said his council became aware of the infestation through media reports.
He said the Tshwane Metropolitan Council immediately did spot checks and found that there were a lot of illegal dump sites which attracted rats.
The rat takeover was prevalent in the areas of Atteridgeville and Soshanguve.
"People need to be educated on where to dump their rubbish. They must realise that there are proper dumping sites and use them," Baloyi said.
In February, Mkhatshwa launched a clean-up campaign for the streets of Pretoria and its surrounding areas.
The campaign especially concentrated on Mabopane station - a taxi rank, train station and bus stop. Baloyi said the station was much cleaner now and big rubbish bins had been placed in the area.
This type of action was needed in other areas, he said.
The council's environment management department had warned that getting rid of the rodents through poison could be dangerous as other animals and humans could eat the poisoned rats.
He appealed to house owners to help alleviate the infestation by making sure that their homes were clean.
"People also need to help us because for example there is no way the council can kill rats in someone's house."
Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo's representative Kgotso Chikane said the city's rat problem "had not reached crisis proportions".
He described the infestation as a "general problem", saying many of the rats were found in dilapidated buildings and illegal dumping sites.
The Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council had corporatised its waste management sector and initiated a campaign called "Pick It Up" to clean the city.
Chikane said a few weeks ago the campaign had concentrated its efforts on Alexandra.
He said the council was working on by-laws to enable metro officers to better police illegal dumping.
"This will also help with the rat problem because it will deter people from dumping in the wrong places."
Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Council acting representative Henriette Weeseman said the council had not received any formal complaints about rats.
She said if there were any rat infestations in the area people should contact their nearest clinic or environmental health department.
A Gauteng pest control company called Pest Master said there had been a marked increase of callers wanting rodents to be killed.
Pest Master director Carol Macdonald said her company had also so far this year used more rodent poison than previous years.
She said one of the reasons for this was that in winter the rats went into buildings for warmth and Gauteng's relatively heavy rains earlier this year had flushed many of the rodents out of their burrows.
Rats in the Johannesburg area were recently a major concern due to uncontrolled hawking in the city's centre which attracted the rodents because of food.
"Unfortunately man has created pests because we are constantly moving to vacant areas where rodents live and they become a problem for us," Macdonald said.
SA Airways Netcare Travel Clinics medical director Dr Andrew Jamieson warned that rats could pose serious health risks.
He said besides the rodents causing a variety of illnesses they also bit children and people who could not move.
People can catch diseases from rats through their fleas, urine, faeces and bites.
Jamieson said an infestation of rats alone was an indication of poor hygiene. - Sapa