DURBAN – EMACHOBENI residents in Inanda, north of Durban, are angry that a cellphone tower has been set up without any consultation with them and have threatened to cut it down if it is not removed from the area.
One of the angry community members is Sifiso Siphofane who said they were not consulted about the construction of the tower. “They should take it and build it somewhere else. If they do not remove it, then we will cut it down,” he said.
Siphofane said the presence of the tower has resulted in their networks not working properly. Other residents told the Daily News the presence of the tower had affected how their television sets operated and they were scared of the high radio frequencies that come from the tower. Others said they were scared how the elderly might be affected by the presence of the tower.
Thembi Khanyile who lives adjacent to the tower said last year in November men came to a patch of land next to her house and started to work.
“I asked them what they were doing and they told me they were going to put in a network,” she said.
The men took measurements of the site. She said the owner of the site who did not stay in the area was sitting in the car next to it and barely came out and when she questioned the owner; the owner allegedly could not give a straight answer. That was the last time she heard from the owner as the person has gone Awol since she does not live in the area.
Khanyile said the conflict began when the contractors used part of her land when they were fencing the area. She said they then told her that they had asked to connect to her house for electricity.
They used an underground cable to connect the tower and the house and promised they would take care of the electricity bill.
“I agreed because I did not know any better,” she said.
It was only after neighbours told her of the dangers of having an electricity cable running underground through her yard that she saw the danger it presented.
There were no papers that were signed and she claimed her Vodacom network stopped working soon after the installation of the tower.
A Vodacom spokesperson said they had established that Vodacom did not build the site and were leasing it from telecommunications tower company Kopano. Programme manager for Kopano Jacques Roux said he could not comment on the matter until next week as he was on leave and needed to consult with his colleagues, some of whom were also on leave.
Spokesperson for the Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance Niki Moore said for a tower to be set up there needed to be consent of the neighbours.
“It sounds like it is illegal from the word go,” she said.
Moores said she advised that Khanyile should talk to a municipal inspector for the area who would ensure that all procedures were followed. She said if there were no proper procedures then the municipality could disassemble the tower.
Political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said he recalled an incident when he was in Soweto where people were not consulted about the construction of a tower. He said they were only told after the tower was constructed.
“Nothing about us without us, that is what needs to be done,” he said.
Seepe said companies also needed to stop treating people like they were infants and assuming that setting up the towers would be good for them. He also added that the people who were contracted for the work needed to be looked into as they needed to ensure that economic empowerment was happening.
Information and communication technology expert Arthur Goldstuck said communities were justified in their anger.
Although it was not illegal to set up a mast without consultation, it was ethically and morally wrong to do so. He said there needed to be more research into claims of radiation effects of towers near people.
Goldstuck said he expected that there would be more protests by communities around the matter of setting up of towers. The eThekwini municipality had not responded to questions sent by the Daily News by the time of printing.