Monster illegal tower rises in stunned Harrismith

Issued by Leona Kleynhans MPL – Member of the Official Opposition in the Free State Legislature
11 Mar 2021 in Press Statements

Note to Editors: Please find the attached soundbites in English and Afrikaans by Leona Kleynhans MPL, Member of the Official Opposition in the Free State Legislature. Please click here to view the letter.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) have written to Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, the MEC of Cogta in the Free State, Skully Nxangisa, and the Municipal Manager, Patric Mothamaha, alerting them of an illegal telecommunications tower that has been erected in Harrismith. The erection of this telecommunications tower is illegal in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA), the municipal by-laws, and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations.

Residents of Harrismith were horrified when a 45 meter high telecommunications tower was erected in a suburb during the past month. This telecommunications tower is in the grounds of a creche and is squeezed in between 170 year-old sandstone heritage buildings in a quiet suburb of the town. (Please see photos, here, here and here).

Neighbours were not consulted in the process of erecting the telecommunications tower and the entire legally required public participation process was ignored by the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality. Approval was granted by an unnamed official, on an application lodged by Atlas Tower in 2016. Processes required in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law, adopted by council, and gazetted in November 2015, were also not followed.

In terms of a parliamentary reply by Minister Creecy in November 2020, a telecommunications tower exceeding 15 meters must be subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment. This was not done. It is also required that a Heritage Assessment must be done where historically significant buildings are affected. This was also not done.

Numerous court judgements against Atlas Tower have ordered the removal of such towers, over several years all over South Africa, where proper processes were not followed.

Residents of Harrismith want to know why such a monstrous tower, including heavy equipment and a large generating unit, was apparently allowed, within 3 meters of homes, inside a creche property, and in a quiet residential suburb. Other more suitable open spaces, parks and stadiums are available within the nearby area, if indeed such a tower is necessary at all.

The DA suspects that some underhanded dealings, and financial benefit for certain individuals was the motivation behind this project. The Maluti-a-Phofung municipality is already the subject of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe ordered by President Cyril Ramaphosa in August last year, which will look at various illegal contracts awarded during the tenure of former Executive Mayor and current Chief Whip of the Free State Legislature, Mr Vusi Tshabalala. Interestingly, it was Tshabalala who illegally fired the municipality’s Town Planner, who was later reinstated by the National Provincial Administrators who arrived in Maluti-a-Phofung in August of 2019, just two months after this application had been authorised.

The DA has afforded the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality seven days to respond to a series of questions posed on the decision taken to erect the telecommunications tower, failing which the DA will obtain a legal opinion on the matter.

The DA will not allow the ANC’s abuse of power to continue, and will ensure that justice is served for the residents of Harrismith.