The health threat posed by illegally constructed cellphone towers was the topic on everyone’s lips at a community meeting in Glenwood on Tuesday, 6 March. This after opposing the cell towers that have been erected in the area. The meeting was organised by a community forum activist group as the Durban Anti-Cellmast Alliance who invited MTN CEO, Rob Shuter to attend and explain why masts were constructed on municipal land despite regulations and by-laws.

One resident, Andre Van Rooyen shared his struggle with a deep depression believed to be an effect of the radiation emitted from the too-close towers. “Cell towers cause depression and anxiety due to the chemicals,” claimed Van Rooyen.

The father and husband shared the heartbreaking story of his attempted suicide saying that he was having trouble sleeping and began to fight with his colleagues about a week after the cell tower in his area was erected. “I was having anxious and depressive dreams,” added the resident.

Meanwhile, related concerns have been raised in Reservoir Hills, where residents from the Dolphin Avenue sector held a peaceful placard demonstration calling for the construction of the proposed cellphone mast on the road to cease. Chairman of the Dolphin Avenue Residents Association (DARA), Danjay Deonarain, said, “Residents are up in arms regarding the building of the cellphone mast on Dolphin Avenue. Our gripes began in November 2016 when construction began and we immediately acted and objected. The construction stopped and we were under the impression that the matter was put to bed. In February this year, construction commenced again and we were informed that we could voice our objections, thereof. Clearly, it appears that the safety and health of residents means nothing to these giants.”

Organiser behind Tuesday’s meeting, Niki Moore had similar health concerns. “The level of radiation is very high according to a calibrated device for measuring EMS, it is more than 6 Volts per metre,” claimed Moore.

“This radiation emissions are more harmful to the body when in sleep mode. The big thing is sleep-if you are radiated while you sleep, it’s a big problem. During the day, we can handle it, when we are moving around and our blood is circulating,” said Moore.

Seven-year resident, Adriaan Patd said his family had experienced health issues after the cell tower went up. “A tower was put up despite promises that the tower would not go up when we opposed it. There used to be a lot of frogs in the garden and now have gone away. My wife suffers from headaches and I don’t sleep through the night,” said Patd. MTN CEO, Rob Shuter was invited to attend the meeting, but did not pitch and residents who attended left without answers from the service provider. According to media reports, MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said that the company would respond to the issue when a final and officially-approved solution was found.

Meanwhile residents are grappling for answers to an issue that has been ongoing for months. “We simply aren’t getting the answers that we want and the fact that they are not here tonight shows that they don’t have answers,” said Moore.

EThekwini Municipality Head of Communications Unit, Tozi Mthethwa said that after the 2010 World Cup, there are 327 poles in the city being used for CCTV coverage and cellphone network cell masts. “All poles that MTN is currently making use of have been approved by the city. These were existing poles being used by the city for erecting CCTV cameras. However, the 40 new poles are not compliant nor are they operational. While MTN may have not adhered to all the relevant prescripts of the land use management protocol in respect of the 40 new poles, steps are being taken to ensure compliance,” said Mthethwa.

According to Mthethwa, the Disaster Management Unit has an agreement with MTN and other network companies to make use of the city’s 327 CCTV camera poles if they adhere to the Cell Mast Policy. However, residents at Tuesday’s meeting reported that camera’s were ill placed and Moore added that there are several differences between a cell tower and camera tower.

The constructions failed to use the correct process said Ward 31 Councillor, Chris Pappas who attended the event. “Whether it’s through real estate or land use management the process exists so that nothing wrong can happen,” said Pappas.