Fear of 5G and cellphone towers fades in South Africa

Nearly six years on from a Durban community protesting against cellphone tower installations in their neighbourhood, resistance against these masts has greatly diminished, reports the Sunday Times.

This was evident from the relative silence over a new tower proposed to be erected on private property within the area.

Ward 36 Resident’s Association chair Vanessa Knight said a notice about the tower’s construction had been posted in all relevant groups, and she had not received any objections.

Ward councillor Shontel de Boer added that she had only received two objections.

“Upon receipt of the notification of intent to install a new cellphone tower in the area, I immediately shared it with the community on all social media platforms,” said De Boer.

“I received two direct responses informing me I must do something about it. Since then, there has been no comment either for or against this proposed installation.”

De Boer speculated that given the negative effect of load-shedding and poor data reception, residents had likely become more aware that the towers are necessary for good connectivity.

“I believe there are still some who believe in the threat of radiation and other health-related problems possibly associated with cellphone towers,” said De Boer.

“However, the need for better services has increased as more and more people are working from home. The idea of running businesses and working from home has become the norm and with this comes improved cellphone and internet services.”

Original protests

The original protests began in 2017 against MTN.

They revolved around claims by the Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance that the network operator had illegally rolled out cellphone masts in the city.

The alliance claimed the MTN masts did not receive planning permission, as required by the national Spatial and Land Use Act.

It also claimed the masts presented a “health hazard,” and argued that the contract did not include an end date on the contract, nor did it detail how many masts could be posted, or where they could be installed.

In March 2018, the eThekwini Municipality confirmed there were MTN sites which were not compliant with the city’s by-laws.

MTN said later that year that it was making its best effort to align with the process the municipality had laid out for it to follow.

“We reiterate that towards the end of February 2018, the municipality defined the ex post facto process that MTN, along with all other mobile operators making use of the camera poles, would be required to follow,” an MTN spokesperson said at the time.

“We immediately began preparing to meet these requirements and have made significant progress since then.”

In 2020, as it faced a court battle with the Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance, MTN provided an update on the situation, saying it complied with all appropriate processes.

“All necessary processes have been met in order to obtain the approvals and permits for the placement of the required infrastructure,” said MTN.

“To this end, 41 camera poles have been fully approved by the eThekwini Land Use Management Department.”

“MTN continues to engage with the municipality regarding the fulfilment of the remaining sites.”

Now read: MTN told a customer they could upgrade — then tried to charge them penalty fees

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Fear of 5G and cellphone towers fades in South Africa