After a mast was illegally constructed outside Engen garage in Edgemead last year, (“Fury over Edgemead cell mast”, Tabletalk, June 22 2016), rumours again began circling about the reconstruction of a 15m high mast at the same spot.
The City of Cape Town has now put this rumour to bed and confirmed an application for the mast is being processed. If approved, it will become the pilot project for a roll-out of masts at Engens across the country.
City of Cape Town spokesperson, Priya Reddy, said the application for consent was advertised to surrounding property owners on Wednesday November 16 last year. However, concerned resident, Walter Geldenhuys, said he lives about 200 metres from the intended mast site and had only found out about its development through “rumours”.
“I recently wrote to councillor Helen Carstens about the rumours that Engen Edgemead has once again opted to erect the wi-fi/data masts on their premises right next to residential areas. It seems Helen is not eager or willing to back the concerns of the people who have voted her into office.
“I believe the majority of residents in Edgemead are against the erection of these towers and concerned about the safety of their kids,” said Mr Geldenhuys.
Edgemead resident and Rhodes researcher, James Lech, has also spoken out on his fear regarding the possible hazardous effects of the electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation let off by the mast on the surrounding environment and residents.
Mr Lech is currently conducting research modelling the effects EMF radiation on the population and the different international safety exposure protocols used. He has confirmed that standards used to determine radiation hazards are not necessarily focused on health impacts.
“There is no national EMF radiation protection standard so we won’t know whether masts are violating radiation levels or not. There is no legal accountability for it. I am researching the potential effects of EMF radiation on the public for my dissertation and the systematic violation of human rights.
“I have launched an equality court application against it [radiation safety protocols in SA] which I am waiting for to be approved. I am concerned about the potential biological effects on humans. Age and health have vulnerability to radiation,” said Mr Lech.
Mr Lech’s research, conducted at Rhodes University, has determined that the radiation safety protocol endorsed by Engen are contrary to over half the world’s national EMF radiation exposure safety standards.
He said the endorsed safety levels by Engen are insufficiently protective of public health and can result in hazardous conditions such as neurological impairments and DNA strand breaks.
“The EMF radiation guidelines endorsed by Engen do not protect the general public as it does not recognise safety parameters for children. The physics of the interaction between height and the radiation frequency results in the body absorption rate in persons under the height of 1.3 metres being forty percent above the safety limits prescribed for adults.
“Engen’s endorsed EMF radiation guideline warns that an adult should not use a cellular radiation wireless device for more than 18 to 24 minutes per day. However, the service advertised by the respondents encourages users violate this warning,” said Mr Lech.
Edgemead Residents’ Association chairman, Emile Coetzee, also shared concerns for increased mast development in the area due to the need for speed where internet connectivity is concerned.
“The reality with mobile technology is that its providers want to supply the ‘next generation of high speed services’. We may be looking at a future with a tower on every street corner. I honestly don’t think this is a desirable situation to be in.”
“The notice pool [sent out by the City to surrounding residents] is alarmingly small. Planning only sent notices to 18 properties covering a radius of 100m in contrast with the Southdale Road mast notice which was sent to just over 50 properties within a radius of up to 350m. Both masts are 15m high so I am unsure as to why the size of the interested and affected parties should be different,” said Mr Coetzee.
Ms Reddy said the application for consent was advertised to surrounding property owners as prescribed in terms of the City of Cape Town Municipal Planning by-Law. She also said compliance, including requirements from a City Health perspective, would only be administered once the application was approved.
“There are requirements that certain reports be made available in relation to radio frequency emissions, which can be requested from the service provider, so that the installation emission can be measured and monitored. The report for consideration by the decision-making authority has not been drafted, as the period for comment has not expired yet.
“The intention is to erect a 15 metre high mast, which is intended to be disguised as a light post. It is indicated that the application is to obtain the rights to install the mast, so that the applicant can obtain or do a proof of concept with Engen, so that this concept could be rolled out across South Africa,” said Ms Reddy.
Tabletalk contacted Engen Edgemead and mast developer MK Mabena, chairperson of the Enaleni Group, based in Midrand, for comment but both had not responded by the time the publication went to print. However, in a letter to Tabletalk last year (“Enaleni strives to do good work”, Tabletalk, June 29 2016), Mr Mabena said as a business, they commit themselves to building technology that impacts the community positively.
“We want to comply with all by-laws in order for us to complete our POC (proof of concept) and prove to South Africa that we can build small masts that fit in with environments and impact society positively.
“Since the lamp-pole mast has never been done before in any service station in South Africa, my request is that your newspaper assist in clarifying the issue and also help all the stakeholders involved to engage on the issue for a quicker resolution.
“Enaleni is committed to work with all stakeholders to ensure all parties are consulted and proper process is followed in order for us to move forward,” he wrote.