In a new twist in the David vs Goliath battle that has raged for two years, the city council and cellphone giant MTN have filed notices to oppose an application by a group of residents calling themselves the Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance (Dacma).
The lobby group has filed a high court application, asking the court to review what they said was a “secret deal” entered into by the council and MTN in 2016.
The eight applicants, all residents of eThekwini, argue in the court papers that the roll-out of the cell masts in the city was unprocedural and in contravention of the city’s by-laws and national legislation.
They are also asking the court to force the municipality to disclose information about what its decision to allow for the roll-out of the MTN masts was based on.
They claimed the council had so far refused to release such information, and that they had tried other avenues to force its hand, including making a Promotion of Access to Information Act application.
Dacma claims the agreement between the city and MTN was irregular as the matter was never discussed in council.
“The research we have done has shown that this roll-out was completely unnecessary, as none of these masts increased cellular connectivity in areas where it was actually required,” said Dacma spokesperson Niki Moore.
“MTN has done the cellular telephone industry no favours: by proceeding illegally and unprocedurally, they have raised huge concerns about their industry in the minds of the public.”
“The municipality has filed a notice to oppose. The city is in compliance with all the rules of the court. Please note we cannot comment further as the matter is now before the court,” city council spokesperson Mandla Nsele said.
MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said the company was continuing to follow the ex post facto process that MTN, along with all other mobile operators making use of the posts, was required to follow as defined by the municipality.
She said MTN continued to receive weekly updates on the progress of the authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority and on environmental impact assessments, which were submitted as part of the land use special consent application.
O’Sullivan said their main objective was to do their best to continue to offer the people of eThekwini high speed and wide-scale coverage while meeting all requirements and obligations, as defined by the relevant authorities.