For nearly two decades the Strawberry Lane community has vigorously objected to the erection of cellphone towers in this small, rural-like residential area where no suitable mast-site exists. Two Vodacom cellphone towers have already been removed from the area and a third MTN mast has been vigorously opposed as well. This mast is currently still operational after two and a half years, despite rulings by the Western Cape High Court (June 2015) and the Supreme Court of Appeal (Dec 2016) that the building plans had been wrongly approved by the City and the mast illegally erected.
OVERVIEW OF COMMUNITY ACTIVITY
In the late 1990s, residents in the area discovered that a cellphone tower (hidden in a garage in the Bible College) had been installed operating illegally without their knowledge or consent. After two years of objection and petition gathering, the mast was dismantled in 2001.
In 2007 a couple of thousand petitions were gathered from far & wide objecting to an application to have the mast legally installed again. A neighbourhood action group (EMRSA) was formed and a central website created to share information.
Council subsequently approved the cellphone tower and construction began in July 2011. The community immediately rallied again and held a large & widely-publicised protest against not only against the Bible College site, but also against another proposed site in Dalham Rd belonging to the Schofield family. The City of Cape Town’s flawed mast policy and concerning government legislation were also opposed. During this period there were countless communications with Council, the mayor’s office, provincial and national government, cellphone operators, landowners and attorneys.
Following the protest, further operation on the Bible College mast was suspended pending a meeting with the community. To Vodacom’s credit, their senior management met with the Action Group in Nov 2011and following the presentation, the Action Group was thanked by Vodacom for their professionalism, thorough preparation and non-emotive delivery and for putting the point across in a calm way. They said that they took the community’s concerns very, very seriously which is why they had halted operations on the mast. The Vodacom mast infrastructure was subsequently removed.
However on 12 Nov 2014, an MTN mast was erected immediately adjacent to a home in Dalham Rd, despite a High Court application opposing it. This mobilised the community again and a second protest was held 2 weeks later. Reasons for the community’s strong objection can be found in this Press Release.
The lack of consideration demonstrated by Council, MTN and landowners was highlighted in the letter delivered during the protest to the Schofield family (landowners of the mast site) :
“A community and a democracy cannot exist when individuals act purely on self-interest to the detriment of people around them. This incident has, as you are now probably aware, once again mobilised the community, who remain in strong opposition to the erection of this, or any other cellphone base stations in their neighbourhood…. Unless we are able to find an amicable solution to this matter we will be left with no choice but to escalate the protest process and take this matter further into the public domain. We therefore, as your neighbours, impore you to reconsider your decision regarding the cellmast on your property and extend once again an open invitation to you to meet with us to discuss this matter further.”
Repeated requests made to MTN management to meet with the community, remove the mast or at very least turn it off until the Court passed judgement were refused.
In June 2015 the Western Cape High Court set aside a building approval granted by the City of Cape Town that had allowed MTN to erect the cellphone tower as a temporary structure, thereby circumventing due process. It was also demonstrated that the City had assisted MTN, advising them how to circumvent the planning and approval process (and by extension the rights of rate payers). [Judgment]. This judgment potentially has far-reaching implication for other masts in the City as “most of the original infrastructure was approved as temporary departures”, according to the City’s 2015 Mast Policy.
MTN appealed the ruling but on 16 December 2016 the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the High Court judgement that the base station was not a temporary structure and confirmed that the building plans had been wrongly approved by the City. (MTN judgement 2016-12-01)
MTN refused to decommission it. Instead they applied to the City Council to assist them in having the site rezoned for permanent land use:
The application makes provision for 6 additional antennas as well as microwave dishes for future users of the mast .
MTN noted a high number of customer complaints but most of these customers came from people outside the area and tradesmen passing through. Petition maps show the extent of objection from this community, based on polls from 2011 and 2014.
On 1 Dec 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered judgement that the building plan had been wrongfully approved by Council. This illegally erected mast is still operational — 2.5 years since it was erected
Section 5.2.2: Health issues have been downplayed and trivialised. It’s highly misleading to say that there is insufficient “conclusive” evidence – more here. And what is not mentioned in this application is the following excerpt from the ICNIRP guidelines: “Different groups in a population may have differences in their ability to tolerate a particular NIR exposure. For example, children, the elderly, and some chronically ill people might have a lower tolerance for one or ore forms of NIR exposure than the rest of the population.” This is all the more reason for precaution in a residential area.
The conclusion of this section is opinion not fact: “The existing base station is in no way intrusive and poses no negative implications on the surrounding community and environment.”
Once again there was strong objection to the rezoning by the community but in Oct 2017, the Municipal Planning Tribunal approved the rezoning.
Appeals followed once again and as the battle continues the illegally erected mast enters into its fourth year of operation!
Information that we have received over the years as a result of this publicity has been stored centrally on our website www.EMRSA.co.za for the benefit of other communities, who also need to be mindful, responsible and sparing in their use of wireless technology.