Concerned Braelynn residents have vowed to stop the erection of a cellphone tower near a clinic and a pre-school in their suburb.
"We are determined and that thing will not go up. If it does we will chop it down," said Moonshine pre-school owner Bonnita Reddy, who has more than 40 young children on her premises – less than 150 metres from the proposed site.
Work on the MTN tower began on May 11, continued through to the Sunday and into the evening during last week, residents said. So far the tower’s foundations have been dug on the corner of the community hall property.
Last week interviews on television programme Special Assignment with several South Africans who had experienced adverse health effects, such as respiratory problems, allegedly as a result of living near cellphone towers, triggered an uproar in Braelynn.
While there has been no conclusive evidence on whether the electromagnetic radiation that the towers emit is harmful to humans, the World Health Organisation has declared research into the subject a ?high priority?.
And Braelynn locals are determined that they will not form part of this research.
"It is not us I am worried about, it is these babies whom we need to protect," said a visibly upset Reddy.
A spokesperson for the Electro-Magnetic Action Group (Emag), a Johannesburg-based organisation that spreads awareness of the dangers of cellphone towers, warned the Braelynn community not to wait until it was too late.
The South African government does not have a policy on the positioning of cellphone towers in residential areas and Emag spokesperson Vicky Benjamin said that once a cellphone tower is up it is very hard to remove.
"The community has to fight it," said Benjamin, who also believes the towers are especially dangerous for children.
This was because their skulls were thinner than those of adults and the electromagnetic radiation interfered with brain development.
In the United Kingdom, Sir William Stewart, National Radiological Protection Board chairperson, has recommended that towers should not be sited near schools.
However, MTN South Africa’s chief technical officer, Phumlani Moholi, said that the consensus of the WHO and the National Department of Health is that there was no substantiated evidence of health effects from the low levels of RF generated by mobile base stations which comply with national and international safety guidelines.
Benjamin warned that there were no hard and fast regulations governing the erection of towers and that many times "they get put on hold, we get told that the technology is moving too fast for legislation."
A municipal spokesperson said that the plans for the cellular tower in Braelynn were approved by the municipality’s architecture branch.
Because local municipalities specify and implement their own regulations regarding cellphone towers, the law varies across the country.
Buffalo City’s development planning director Craig Sam, confirmed that in Buffalo City there was no special regulation governing the construction of cellphone towers.
"In areas of Gauteng, a notice inviting public objections must be displayed at the site and distributed to surrounding landowners before a cellphone tower can be built.
In a letter to the Daily Dispatch another upset local resident, Norma Willemse, said she was "appalled" by the plans to build the tower and that none of her immediate neighbours had been informed about them.
Willemse’s efforts to get an explanation from Buffalo City Municipality have been in vain.
A sister at the nearby clinic said she had not been informed of the plans to build the tower and had only recently found out from the workmen.
Reddy said the total lack of consultation with the community during the planning stages was not acceptable.
Even worse, she said, was the municipality’s silence after the decision was made to make a cellphone tower the suburb’s dominant landmark.
She said the first time residents realised what was happening was when a neighbour asked the foreman of the construction team what he was working on.
"I couldn’t believe that work had begun and nobody knew anything about it," Reddy said.
"How on earth could Craig Sam have passed this? Did he watch Special Assignment?" she asked.
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