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Cellphone tower plan sends neighbourhood into frenzy

Gauteng
Johannesburg - Spend some time at Henley on Klip, and it’s clear that you’re no longer in Joburg. Birds fly around, filling the air with chirping sounds. Houses sit on properties with sprawling lawns.

It’s one of the reasons why Boze van Greunen, 33, moved here from Vanderbijlpark in October with his wife, Heather Dent, and Benjemen, their 1-year-old son.

However, about a month ago, a neighbour several houses down Eynsham Road called Van Greunen and told him he had received a letter stating Vodacom’s intention to build a cellular mast in the middle of their residential neighbourhood, just a few metres away from Benjemen’s bedroom.

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Boze van Greunen is worried about how the tower will affect his family's health. Picture: Supplied

Despite a Midvaal municipality policy that requires adjacent property owners to be notified, Van Greunen said neither he nor the other next-door neighbour received any notification - a ploy he believes Vodacom is using to avoid feedback from those closest to the property.

“We basically heard on the grapevine about what’s going on,” he said. “How can you just, without anyone’s consent or approval from the neighbours, plan to build a cellphone tower?”

RURAL SPACE: The home of Boze van Greunen, left, and the Wolmarans property where Vodacom hopes to build a base station. Picture: Supplied

The couple’s attempts to reach Vodacom were unsuccessful, said Dent, a Vodacom customer. When she called, the representative had a “bad attitude” and put her on hold.

However, Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said the company complied with the policy and provided notice to the appropriate parties. 

No action to build the base station would be taken until approval from the municipality, which had not yet reached a decision on the application for building plan approval for the mast.

The building of more base stations would help lower the rate of dropped calls in the area, he said.

“The capacity of each base station is limited and given the growth in data traffic, if we are not able to add new sites, both the quality of calls and the speed of data connections will suffer,” Kennedy said.

Van Greunen purchased the home from Linda Parsonson, the DA councillor for the Midvaal ward where he lives. He said he wouldn’t have done so if he knew there were plans to build the tower.

With the R380 000 his family put in for security upgrades, infrastructure improvements and renovations to the property, he said their long-term plan was to stay at Henley on Klip.

Multiple neighbourhood residents have written letters to the municipality, objecting to the tower because of potential health and environmental consequences. 

One complainant wrote he had spoken to the owner of a nearby garage who was willing to have the tower there instead. A future resident from Pretoria also called on the municipality to oppose the application.

“I have to think of my wife and my baby,” Van Greunen said.

Parsonson said she had no idea Vodacom had plans for the tower until recently, despite the company first looking into it in December 2015, according to building plans obtained by The Star. 

She said she sympathised with the family and was against it.

Anzabe Wolmarans, who owns the property where Vodacom is hoping to build the mast, said she was surprised by the response of her neighbours, given the benefits in cell reception the mast could have for the nearby farming community and informal settlements. She frequently had issues with laptop connectivity on her property, she said.

However, Van Greunen said he had no issues with connectivity and believed that the Wolmarans were in it for the money, as they didn’t live on the property.

Wolmarans confirmed that her family moved out two years ago and real estate listings show that the property was first listed in April 2015. It has not been sold and has been re-listed on the market.

The agreement made with Vodacom to have the tower on her property is a 10-year contract, with a R36 000 payout per annum, said Wolmarans, who now lives in Durban.

The municipality is still in the process of deciding on the application to build the tower, said Thys Arlow, Midvaal director of development and planning. The objections will be forwarded to the applicant, who can amend the proposal for the tower. If that doesn’t work out, a hearing with the complainants may be scheduled.

As the community waits for the municipality’s decision, Van Greunen said his next step would be to find a lawyer.

“What can we do? It’s like a little fish putting up a fight against a shark. We’re talking about Vodacom here,” he said. “I don’t have the funds to take them to court every month, but with the little resources that I have, I’ll give it my everything. I’ll fight to the end.”

The Star

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