Despite stated political sentiments that communities need to be involved in decisions that affect them, the experiences in many areas around Cape Town tell a different story (see examples below). For years concerned citizens, residents associations and civic organisations have lobbied the City of Cape Town and national government to address problems in local policy. The public were invited to comment on draft policies in 2011 and 2014 as the existing policy had not been updated since May 2002 (and the original technical review committee referred to in that policy had fallen away shortly afterwards).
An amended policy on the placement of masts in Cape Town was approved in 2015 where it was highlighted that most of the original infrastructure in the City had been approved as temporary departures. This action was subsequently ruled illegal both by the High Court of the Western Cape and the Supreme Appeal Court.
On 3 Sep 2016, Muna Lakhani from Earthlife Africa took the initiative to organise a meeting for concerned citizens and representatives in Heathfield, Cape Town. Below are just a few examples of flawed public participation and in many cases irregular / illegal erection of cellphone towers in Cape Town that made media news in recent months.Aug 2016: Kommetjie residents have raised concerns over the proposed development of two cellphone masts near their homes, citing a lack of public participation and possible health implications. In a formal objection by the Kommetjie Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (KRRA), residents say they have not seen anything advertised and it is clear many of the residents in the proximity to the proposed cell mast location were aware of this extremely only late in the process of the application. “Some were not aware at all as registered letters had not been delivered,” their objection reads. [“Residents object to cell mast plan“]
Jul 2016: Constantia residents released a video summarising their experience of failed public participation and a battle over nearly two decades to have two cellphone towers removed and a third (still operational) ruled illegal in the High Court. Their story highlights a growing trend in government to serve the interests of big business despite the protestations by, and regardless of the effect on, the taxpaying voter. https://vimeo.com/170470262 / www.strawberrylane.co.za / http://www.emrsa.co.za/community-battle-against-cell-masts/
Jun 2016: Edgemead residents believe public participation has become a mere formality for cell tower developers who have put up two masts in the suburb before the consultation process was over. According to Edgemead Residents’ Association chairman, Emile Coetzee, it was not the only one to go up illegally… Mr Coetzee said Warren Petterson Planning had pulled the same “stunt” in Edgemead in 2013 when the community discovered a mast built with invalid plans, as the constructed tower was higher than was stipulated on the final plan. “The problem is the City,” said Mr Coetzee. “There appears to be no consequences for building towers without approved plans.” According to Telkom spokeswoman Jacqui O’Sullivan, because the mast was less than 15m in height legally no public participation was required. [“Fury over Edgemead cellmast”]
Jun 2016: Plumstead residents have said that there are several cellphone base stations and antennae within 200m of each other and not all of them have the necessary approval. Twelve residents, in their objections to sub-council about the latest application said the masts were unsightly, hurt property values and threatened people’s health. However, according to resident Gwen Callanan, residents’ objections to every mast application appeared to be ignored. “They send a letter as a matter of form, it seems – and that is if you get the letter – and then they ignore you.” Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said it appeared there were no recent refusals for cell masts in the southern suburbs in recent years. [“Residents object to ‘forest’ of cell masts“]
May 2016: Heathfield residents are calling on the City of Cape Town to demolish a free-standing telecommunication base in one of the residents’ yard in Fourth Street. The residents are claiming that they were not informed about it and there was no public participation.” Residents are signing a petition in objection to the mast and raising their concerns on how flawed the whole process was. Johan van der Merwe, Mayoral Committee Member for Energy, Environmental and Spatial Planning confirmed that they are aware of the mast and it is unauthorised… “The City cannot immediately order the demolition of the mast; we are obliged to go through a lengthy legal process.” [“Take the mast down”]
May 2016: Constantiaberg Mediclinic – Despite strong opposition and well-researched arguments against it, Sub-council 20 approved a request for a cell mast to be put up on the roof of Constantiaberg Mediclinic. In a statement to the sub-council, the Bergvliet Meadowridge Ratepayers Association (BMRA) said it was short sighted of the City to let the mast go up: “The economic cost (not to mention the emotional and socio-political cost) to the City and the Province if the health risks become a reality will be 10-fold the supposed gain from promoting economic growth at all costs”. The BMRA also found it startling that the mast had gone up before approval for it had been granted…. [Hospital cellmast uproar]
Note: This mast was subsequently removed – [download id=”2300″]
Apr 2016: Croydon – “The positioning of the tower is a problem – it is less that 50 meters from homes,” says a representative of the Croydon Residents’ Association. He adds no public participation process was conducted prior to the construction… Van der Rheede said because the tower was constructed within the prescribed building line no approval is needed from adjacent property owners. Croydon residents will fight against the existing cellphone tower, the residents’ spokesperson said, adding that an application for the construction of a glass factory was previously turned down. [Tower erected without proper consultation ]
A collection of letters to the Cape Times: http://www.emrsa.co.za/cape-times-correspondence-jul-aug-2016/
City of Cape Town’s Telecommunication Mast Policy (2015): https://www.capetown.gov.za/en/Planningportal/Documents/20150817%20TMIP%20final%20approved.pdf