A curious pedestrian looks on at a few rats who were caught in one of the rat traps made and sold by Evans Mathewe from Malawi. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 22/11/2012

Kristen van Schie

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FOR A travelling rat-trap salesman, the City of Joburg is the City of Gold.

Forget advertising. All Evans Mathewe, 31, had to do was sit on the Sauer Street sidewalk with his home-made traps.

They’re simple enough: a wire-framed, food-filled cage and an opening that’s easier to crawl into than to escape from.

As if to prove his point, three of the cages are swarming with big, brown rats, lured in by tomatoes. A toddler stops to stare. He tries to touch. His mother pulls back his hand. Another woman looks closer, squeals, dashes away, and then comes back for a second look.

“You just put the cage in water for five minutes and they suffocate,” says Mathewe.

It’s helped Mathewe trek from Malawi, to Mozambique, to Zimbabwe, to Botswana, trading his wares.

And in a city where the rats could easily amass a small army and storm the legislature, it’s necessary. Trade in 60 rats in Alex and you get handed a free cellphone. It’s that bad.

“You should go there,” insists a passing businessman. “There’s an army of rats in Alex.”

Mathewe nods. He planned on being in Joburg for only a few weeks, but it looks like he’s struck gold.