South African mobile radiation revelation that stunned the world

iBurst, the network operator that would one day become Rain, made headlines in 2010 after conclusively refuting allegations that its wireless signal was causing health problems.

The incident made headlines globally after MyBroadband’s article trended on Digg, Slashdot, and Reddit.

It all began when iBurst erected a tower in Fourways Memorial Park on 12 August 2009, drawing the attention of activists from nearby Craigavon.

While some residents were concerned that iBurst had not properly consulted the public before erecting the mast, others alleged that they had begun to experience health problems.

Activists staged a protest and began complaining of various symptoms, including rashes, headaches, nausea, tinnitus, dry burning itchy skins, gastric imbalances, and disrupted sleep patterns.

They also alleged that children were among those affected.

According to some of the complaints, the symptoms subsided within hours of being away from the area.

iBurst CEO at the time, Jannie van Zyl, said they agreed to a meeting with concerned residents despite the absence of medical proof that wireless signals are hazardous to human health.

The current scientific understanding is that below certain power thresholds, electromagnetic waves up to the visible light spectrum are unlikely to be harmful to human health.

Electromagnetic fields that run at frequencies higher than that of ultraviolet light are known as ionising.

Ionising electromagnetic radiation, such as that caused by x-rays and gamma rays, can damage DNA and are known to cause cancers.

Non-ionising radiation, which includes microwaves, does not cause DNA damage. However, at high enough power levels, it may harm human health.

For this reason, government regulators worldwide set limits on the amount of power that wireless transmitters are allowed to emit.

Van Zyl said they explained at the meeting that the radiation emitted by the tower was ten thousand times less than international safety standards for mobile towers.

“The radiation at this site was the same level as that already present from cellular phone towers in the area,” Van Zyl said.

“In other words, the iBurst tower did not increase the radiation in the area significantly above the level already present for a long time.”

Tower
An old iBurst Tower in South Africa

The Craigavon activists were unmoved by the evidence and reiterated their health complaints.

Some said their symptoms disappeared when they left the vicinity of the tower, while others said it takes at most two days to recover from their rashes.

Van Zyl agreed at the meeting to turn off the tower with immediate effect. The meeting was held on 16 November 2009.

What he didn’t tell residents was that the tower had actually been turned off in early October — six weeks before the meeting.

He only revealed what they had done on 14 January 2010.

Van Zyl said this clearly proved that the iBurst tower could not be the cause of the health symptoms they described.

“Whatever caused their symptoms, it was now a fact that it could not be attributed to the iBurst tower,” he stated.

He also said the tower was switched back on in the second week of December. However, iBurst took it down shortly after that, citing complaints about its aesthetics.

The international embarrassment outraged the activists, one of whom accused Van Zyl of conducting human experimentation without consent.

The activist filed a criminal complaint against iBurst and urged that Van Zyl be investigated.

He alleged that iBurst violated the Bill of Rights, contravened international human rights treaties binding on South Africa, and defamed the character of people trying to bring the illegal activity to light.

The criminal complaint goes so far as to cite the Nuremburg Code, which was set down following World War 2, and stated that Van Zyl “consciously and deliberately violated the human rights of South African citizens in defiance of international binding law.”

Despite the severity of the claims, nothing came of the allegations. The activists also didn’t pursue the case further, although they would emerge once more when networks stared rolling out 4G and 5G  in South Africa.

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South African mobile radiation revelation that stunned the world