Big court battle over MTN cellphone towers in Durban

MTN’s partnership with the Ethekwini municipality to provide mobile network coverage in the area is progressing well, the mobile network provider said, despite a local group taking the municipality to court in October over the legitimacy of the towers.

The Durban Anti Cellmast Alliance’s spokesperson, Nicki Moore, told MyBroadband in February 2019 that there was no end date on a contract that reportedly involved MTN paying the Ethekwini municipality R5,000 for each of its 123 cell masts installed across the municipality.

Moore also alleged that the contract, which the alliance had seen, did not state where masts could be posted or how many masts could be installed.

She also alleged that the masts failed to meet Durban’s by-laws, and its health and safety regulations.

In response, MTN said the open-ended lease had been revised into a shorter-term draft agreement which would be reviewed by the municipality.

The mast deal, said MTN, began ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but was found years later to be misaligned with a municipal regulation – the Land Use Management Unit.

As a result, it had been working with the municipality to find a solution that complied with regulations.

In February 2018, the eThekwini Municipality defined an “ex-post-facto” process that mobile operators, including MTN, needed to follow.

MTN said it was committed to complying with this process and has been working with the municipality to do so.

The latest from MTN

MyBroadband asked MTN what the latest news was on the situation, and it said it has complied with all of the 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 executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan.

“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.”

Criticism of the arrangement

However, Niki Moore of the Durban Anti Cellmast Alliance said MTN had admitted last year that its arrangement with the Ethekwini municipality had been flawed.

“They undertook retrospectively to legitimise the masts, and began a public participation process,” Moore said.

However, the alliance was not satisfied with how the situation was dealt with.

“It was a bit of a farce, because they were asking for public permission to erect masts that had already been erected, but in most cases no-one objected and the masts were kept in place,” said Moore.

However, 11 masts were allegedly “so problematic that it would have been impossible to legitimise them retrospectively”, resulting in MTN withdrawing these applications.

Moore claims that these 11 masts are still operational, even though they are “completely illegal.”

Court case in October

Moore said that the Durban Anti Cellmast Alliance has a court case against the Ethekwini municipality that is due to be heard in the Durban High Court in October.

However, she believes that the issue cannot be solved by a court case.

“We are hoping that the court declares the cell masts illegal, but even if they did, it is unlikely that anything will change because the ‘incentives’ that allowed MTN to bypass all laws and regulations have not been investigated, and no action has been taken against corrupt officials despite several complaints,” said Moore.

She also said that while she believes the city will probably lose the court case, it will probably not take any action as “government is notorious for ignoring court orders”.

“And as long as MTN continues to operate the way it does, this kind of abuse will continue,” said Moore.

Now read: MTN confirms launch date for 5G network

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Big court battle over MTN cellphone towers in Durban