Residents of Dolphin Avenue in Reservoir Hills, a suburb of Durban, are protesting against a cell mast tower being constructed in the area.
DURBAN - Reservoir Hills, Durban, residents against the construction of a 21.9m MTN cellular mast in their area peacefully protested on Sunday after construction restarted.

Residents said they were hopeful their 200 online objections and more than 40 written objections handed to eThekwini Municipality had halted the construction in 2016, but by then a large part of the construction had been completed. Trenches had been dug, cables laid, fencing erected and concrete slabs laid.

The objections came from the community, including civic bodies such as the Reservoir Hills Ratepayers’ Association, Community Policing Sector, the Cancer Association of SA and an old-age home in the area.

“There are two Montessori schools, an old-aged home, two cancer patients and a primary school within a 1km radius of this mast. In fact, the two cancer patients are the closest to the tower,” said the chairperson of the Dolphin Avenue Neighbourhood Association, Danjay Deonarain.

The group has now appealed the approval given to the cellular company and are awaiting a lawyer’s advice.

According to some of the objections, the company behind the erection of the cell mast tower disregarded by-laws and public participation.

Deonarain said the community was also questioning how construction started in 2016 without public comment or participation.

He said he submitted a letter objecting to the mast on behalf of most Dolphin Avenue residents.

“As it had been some time, all residents were under the impression this matter was closed,” he said.

However, over a year later, residents noticed a sign displayed, as required by the municipality, on the fencing of 5 Dolphin Avenue.

In March 2018, a majority of residents and the Dolphin Avenue Neighbourhood Association submitted their petition to the municipality.

“We are all for technological development. However, I am certain there are other alternatives than constructing this in a residential area where the houses are so close together.

“We are all for lifestyle improvements, however, not when it is to the detriment of an entire neighbourhood,” he said.

Deonarain said despite all their efforts, most of the residents received notification that the construction had been given the go-ahead by the municipality last November.

Dolphin Avenue has at least four cellphone masts in the area and two blocks of flats with numerous antennae displayed on top of the buildings.

“We question the need for a further cellphone mast. The mast is meant to service the valley area below Dolphin Avenue. This area is not densely populated. In fact, the valley has a stream surrounded by trees,” Deonarian said.

In a letter to residents, eThekwini municipality said the mast in question was approved and the site in Dolphin Avenue was identified as the most suitable place for the base station.

The municipality said it was the highest point in the area and on a natural ridge line to service the valley below, which receives a poor signal.

“Other sites in the vicinity were not suitable with no available space to locate the infrastructure,” the letter read. It said the erection of a new mast was “vital” to improve network coverage for the surrounding community.

The municipality said the national Department of Health, informed by the World Health Organisation, confirmed that there was no scientific evidence of health hazards associated with low levels of radiation exposure that the public would typically experience near a base station.

The deal started in March 2016, when MTN signed a number of lease agreements with eThekwini to put up cellular base stations across Durban on municipal property.

Last year, the city acknowledged to The Mercury that there were some poles not compliant with the by-laws, but said there were only 40 of these, and they were not operational.

At the time, the city had said there were 327 poles being used by various companies as cell masts.

The Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance, the lobby group created in 2017 to protest what it calls the illegal roll-out of MTN cell masts across Durban, lodged papers in the Durban High Court late last year seeking a review of a “secret deal” between MTN and the municipality that saw scores of cell masts mushroom across the city.

- THE MERCURY