Spat with City of Cape Town over cellphone masts turns into costly lesson for Telkom
The ruling confirms that telecoms giant Telkom must comply with the by-laws. The judgment was delivered on Friday by Justice Chris Jafta, who ordered Telkom to pay the costs.
Hailing the outcome, mayor Dan Plato said: “I welcome the ruling by the Constitutional Court as it confirms that the City’s by-laws need to be respected.
“It also means that Telkom will now be required to remove the cellphone masts that it installed without prior land use approval as prescribed in terms of the City’s by-law, which caused much anger with local residents.” Plato said the City made a concerted effort to ensure compliance.
“The City’s efforts to ensure compliance (are) what essentially prompted Telkom to take the City to court over the past five years only for the Constitutional Court to rule that Telkom had indeed erred,” he said.
In 2015, the company wanted to improve its infrastructure to supply better services in Cape Town and decided to build 135 cellphone masts and rooftop stations. It identified a property in Heathfield that belonged to the estate of Birch Kalu.However, the property was zoned as single residential zone 1, which did not allow for construction of cellular masts.
In January 2016, Telkom applied for the rezoning of a portion of the property to permit the construction. Two weeks later, it went ahead and built the mast even though it had not received the City’s approval for rezoning. The mast sparked outrage among residents. The City responded by imposing an administrative penalty on Telkom and put its application for rezoning on hold pending payment of the penalty
Telkom initially applied to the City for the rezoning but while the application was in progress it went ahead and erected the mast without the City’s approval. Both the Western Cape High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) have ruled in the City’s favour.
Judge Jafta said: “There is one further matter that needs to be mentioned. This relates to time periods taken by the City, and probably other municipalities, to decide applications for approval to build cellular phone masts and other related infrastructure.
“The average period is between six months and a year. This is not conducive to the licensees’ needs however, this is a process issue which is not relevant to the interpretation of the Constitution. It may be resolved by the relevant authorities prescribing shorter time periods.”
Telkom was approached for comment but failed to respond to follow-up emails at the time of publication.@MarvinCharles17