This is a story about the undermining of our democracy and our Constitutional rights. This is a story about how a corporation was able to bully residents in their own neighbourhood. This is a story about the flagrant disregard for the rights of a community exhibited by government and corporate interests and about profit over the will of the people.
For over 18 years, the greater community of the Strawberry Lane area has been actively opposing the construction of cell phone masts in the area. They have marched, have signed petitions, have launched websites, held protests and have met with cell phone company executives to explain their views and their communal position. Why, in a democratic society, is the will of the majority no longer a deciding factor in what happens in the midst of a residential community?
What has happened to allow the business interests of corporations more rights than the ratepayers and property owners in a residential suburb? This is not about cell technology or about this one particular tower. This is about 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.
Despite clear opposition from the community, on Wednesday the 12th of November 2014, MTN began installation of a cell tower in Dalham Rd in the Constantia Rural area. The tower is situated some 22 meters from the bedroom of the nearest resident with children and less than 50 meters from the bedrooms of other neighbourhood children.
Reasons for objecting to the masts were varied and included lack of consultation & transparency; flawed legislation, policy & processes; health, environment, bees and the close proximity to homes with children; property values, unsustainable infrastructure and potential long-term economic consequences at the tax payer’s expense.
Regardless of individual reasons, 94% of homes polled in the area were unified in simply saying NO.
In June 2015, a High Court judge ruled that the approval for the mast as a “temporary departure” was illegal. (MTN later lost their appeal in Dec 2016 but refused to decommission the illegal structure.)
Letters sent again from the Strawberry Lane Action Group to MTN’s management in March 2016 enclosed copies of a map demonstrating the extent of opposition here. The group requested that MTN remove or turn off the mast pending the Appeal.
MTN denied the request, maintaining that the mast imposes no prejudice or harm.
We are not against the sale of bandwidth nor are we against cell phone technology. We do not want to oppose the ability of business to function, provided that the construction of infrastructure in our own neighbourhood is approached in an inclusive manner and that our opinion is sought and heeded. As a community we feel that better alternatives, such as optic fibre landline based Internet, are available. We also feel that such wired technologies ultimately have greater bandwidth potential than wireless and do not pose the same risks or cause the same concerns.
We simply feel that as there is sufficient doubt amongst communities globally as to the safety and desirability of wireless technology, that no corporation or government should have the right to impose this technology on a residential community against their will.
We stand with every community that believes they have the right to choose their preferred method of connection and call on the cellphone industry to invest in more responsible solutions for a democratic & sustainable future.
Strawberry Lane Action Group