Furious Fourways residents head to court over iBurst tower - TechCentral

Furious Fourways residents head to court over iBurst tower

Health hazard?

Wireless broadband operator iBurst and a community in Fourways, north of Johannesburg, are at loggerheads over the construction of a base station that some residents of the neighbourhood claim is resulting in serious health problems.

The tower, at Fourways Memorial in the small suburb of Craigavon, was switched on on 12 August 2009. Since then, residents who live close to the iBurst facility have reported skin rashes, headaches, vomiting, sleep disorders, fatigue, upset stomachs, tinnitus and other health conditions.

A residents’ group has claimed that the problems are directly related to electromagnetic radiation.

Now the residents have hired a team of lawyers and are headed to court in an attempt to have the tower removed.

Carte Blanche, a popular weekend television magazine programme, is also expected to highlight the situation on its show, probably this Sunday.

iBurst CEO Jannie van Zyl has ordered that the tower be turned off for two weeks in an attempt to prove to residents that their health problems are not related to electromagnetic radiation from the base station.

But Karl Muller, an interested party who claims that wireless networks are harmful to people’s health, says iBurst’s approach is not helpful.

“The supreme law of this land is the constitution, and the bill of rights gives us the right not to be used in experiments without our informed consent,” Muller says.

“Van Zyl is basically proposing an entirely uncontrolled experiment … without any medical input or supervision. It’s outrageous, a genuine violation of people’s rights, and I’ve strongly suggested to the residents that they should not engage in any debate along these lines with iBurst.”

In addition to the health problems, residents claim that iBurst didn’t strictly follow the environmental approval process before erecting the base station, a claim that Van Zyl firmly rejects.

Some residents want the tower removed because it is an eyesore and has reduced property values in the area, Van Zyl says. He believes aesthetic objections, not health concerns, are the main reason for the residents’ complaints.

He says he doesn’t doubt the sincerity of the residents, but believes any health problems are unrelated.

But Craigavon resident Tracey-Lee Dorny says at least 40 people have symptoms she believes can be ascribed directly to electromagnetic radiation. She says pets have also been affected, with some animals having developed skin rashes.

Now the community is planning to take iBurst to court in a class-action lawsuit. It is also lodging a complaint against the company with the provincial government, alleging that procedures weren’t followed.

Dorny says the community wasn’t properly notified of iBurst’s plans. She says entire housing complexes in the area were not told in advance about the tower’s construction. She also says the community was not given sufficient time to comment on and object to an amended plan.

Jannie van Zyl

Jannie van Zyl

But Van Zyl says that the Gauteng department of agriculture, conservation & environment approved the tower’s construction following a rigorous approval process.

He says all residents within 100m of the base station were informed of the plans before construction began, as required when lodging an application with the provincial government. Notices about the planned construction were also published in newspapers.

Though iBurst received more than half a dozen objections from residents — most of them health related — iBurst says it’s unusual for it to receive as few objections as it did in the case of the Craigavon tower.

Van Zyl says the approvals process is complex — residents have to be notified and objections collated, among other things — and was started more than two years ago. iBurst received approval to build the tower in October 2008.

Though a few complaints had been lodged prior to the construction of the tower, Van Zyl says the bulk of objections flooded in only after the tower was built.

But many residents claim they had not been notified about iBurst’s plans. Van Zyl says every effort was taken to ensure all residents received notice of the company’s plans — including hand-delivered letters and registered letters sent via post.

Van Zyl says iBurst was only granted the go-ahead to build the Craigavon mast after it agreed to reduce the tower’s height from the 35m proposed initially to 25m.

It also agreed to build it among trees at the Fourways Memorial and to paint it green to minimise its visual impact.

But the community claims it wasn’t given time to object to the amended plan.

The Craigavon iBurst tower

The Craigavon iBurst tower

The Craigavon tower is the fourth base station that iBurst has constructed in the Fourways area. Van Zyl says it was essential that the company expand its coverage in the area to cater for fast-growing demand. iBurst operates about 265 base stations countrywide.

“We are not going to build a tower simply to annoy people,” Van Zyl says. “This was the result of a two-year process.”

Already strained relations between iBurst and the residents broke down this week. In a letter from Dorny, copied to TechCentral, Van Zyl accuses the residents of abusing a “spirit of co-operation” he says he had tried to foster. “Your continuous attempts to sensationalise this whole process smacks of no intent (sic) to resolve this amicably.”

Van Zyl says iBurst switched off the tower on Monday, 16 November, but Dorny and other residents are up in arms, claiming the tower is still active. Though the broadband access component of the tower has been disabled, Dorny says the microwave backhaul links — these allow towers to carry data to each other via line of sight — remain operational.

“It was agreed that every single thing would be switched off on the tower,” Dorny says. “We wanted total transparency and honesty. We are trying to work with [iBurst]. We tried to delay any form of legal action until this was resolved.”

However, in his letter to Dorny, Van Zyl says iBurst will henceforth treat the matter at a “proper scientific level” only.

“You will see from any test results that no radiation is coming from the tower. That is factual information and is in stark contrast to the anecdotal stories you have offered as proof up to now,” he writes.

“I therefore require that you provide iBurst with medical proof that the tower did indeed cause the symptoms you claim, failing which it will be turned back on again.”  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

  • iBurst tower photographs courtesy of Debbie Love


  1. From my understanding iBurst offered to turn the tower off. Now they are turning around and turning this into an experiment based on something that did not entirely go down as jvz claims.

    I think it is important that iBurst are transparent, because as a bystander in the thick of it… iBurst are behaving like the American Tobacco industry would.

  2. Hi, are the residents stupid or something. The amount of electromagnetic radiation is so low it can not do anything to people. I think they just do not want the ugly tower in their area.

  3. I think iBurst total lack of respect for the law with regard to the tower being put up is attributed to the residents anger. as far as I am concerned iBurst are trying to look like good guys here and nothing they have done thus far has been: ‘good’.

    i don’t think the residents are stupid, i think they are angry that companies simply just do what they want with little regard to the law or our rights.

    would you mind being subjected to an RF scientific experiment by a broadband company who seems to know nothing about science let alone service without at least your consent?

    the residents behaviour might be emotional – the behaviour of iBurst is unacceptable.

  4. The residents are stupid !

    In fact the iburst base station transmits at less power than a GSM mast, but they don’t complain about those.

    Then they claim oh its not the tower is the backhaul links, which are HIGHLY directional and 35meters above them. MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

    They being very petty and stupid about it.

    iBurst 1 – Residents 0

  5. Those who have had dealings in the past with the iBurst CEO will know he cannot be trusted. When he was working for Vodacom he pretended to be an independent expert when it came to backing up the companies broadband speed claims to the Advertising Standards Authority. For those that don’t believe me, the judgement was: Vodacom 3G / DJ Dawkins & Another / 8207 / 8285. (Jannie owns a company called Omisolutions.)

    “Regarding the claim of “Up to 1.8 Megabits per second, the respondent submitted a letter from Mr Jannie van Zyl of Omnisolutions, and argued that Mr van Zyl qualifies as an expert in the field to which the claims relate. The contents of Mr van Zyl’s submissions will be discussed more fully below …”

    i won’t even touch on the legal implications of such a ruse!

  6. One of the problems here (in my opinion) is that the residents do not have sufficient scientific proof to substantiate their claims that this tower causes the various health problems that they mentioned.

    The reson for this lack of scientific proof is simple – it does not exist, anywhere in the world. There exists no proven evidence that a tower such as this causes health issues because of electromagnetic radiation. I’m sure the radio equipment used in this installation complies with ICASA regulations and therefore is limited to levels which are internationally accepted as safe for residential areas.

    If the residents dropped their hidden agenda and came forward with the real reasons for their objection (of which the could be many) then maybe we could make some progress.

    The objections to installations such as this on the basis that “the electromagnetic radiation causes health problems” are totally unfounded and therefore the arguements are fatally flawed.

  7. The fact of the matter is that the residents don’t want the tower in their back yard, and it is their right not to have something forced on them.

    If Iburst really want to erect a tower, then they can always buy out all the property at prevailing market value within the 100 meter radius they say that they consulted.
    That is only fair.
    Even one objection should be enough to stop the development of a structure like this. Remember, this is an area that is zoned for residential use.
    If iburst want to get rid of the objection then they are free to buy out the property before the tower is built.

    As for iburst requiring medical proof about the claims of health problems, what would be fair was if iburst were to pay for all medical examinations and treatment at a medical practitioner of the residents choice, including any veterinary costs for the animals . That will hopefully satisfy the “proper scientific level” of proof required by iburst.

    Maybe Jannie van Zyl should publish his residential address so that some of these residents can reciprocate with “experiments”. Then again, if iburst were to buy out the properties then he could go stay there, seeing as he feels it is safe.

  8. @Andrew
    There may be many reasons for not wanting the tower, but not all will be a valid objection as far as the council is concerned. It has to violate planning procedure, environmental laws, health & safety, zoning etc. Any protest has to focus on what will work. Of course negative publicity for iBurst is a factor, but you’re dealing with a CEO who thrives on conflict. We saw this almost daily when he was Vodacom rep for the mybroadband forum – using aliases to attack, winding people up, heavy sarcasm, passive aggressive responses, frequent insults and a helluva lot of whining to moderators to ban anyone who disagreed with him or his point of view!

  9. @Ann Williams,
    how about they pay you R10,000 pm to stand on the street corner? You would do that though, AM I RIGHT ?

    I would like to congratulate you on your super smart reasoning. Go to your doctor tomorrow and tell him… “I think I’m sick, but how about you pay for my consultancy fee just to make sure, K THX?”, then in a pleasing manner take your dog, (bitch/wife) whatever you prefer, to the veterinarian, I bet you she gave you some form of viral ‘shit comes out of my mouth’ disease that operates on a 10 Zillion Megayogurts poweranger popcorn-ready microwave range, that fried your matter so bad that you’re incapable of writing out your own name even if it gets written & spelled out for you. So please post your residential address so that we can throw you with a stone. Since I’m clearly sure if you were to be thrown with anything else apart from a stone the characteristics of that object first have to be explained to you.

    @halicon , please post your evidence where iBurst broke the law. Mr Inspector Gadget.

  10. @Jeeva do you have a love affair with iburst or something. you getting very emotional for someone who is not defending their home. People pay alot of money for their homes and should be able to defend their rights. I wander how much the value of their properties has dropped. I for one would not buy in that area now. The medical side is to difficult to prove this early, sadly if it could be proved it will be a long time from now and then they may all well be dead as a consequence. Very fair, NOT!!

  11. Thanks for the balanced article, Duncan. Some decent reporting is really called for in this case.

    I have pointed out repeatedly that ***ALL*** the peer-reviewed scientific studies on masts in the literature unanimously show a consistent pattern of health problems, including significantly raised cancer rates. The problems reported from around the world are absolutely consistent with what people in Craigavon are experiencing — including headaches, nausea, burning sensations on the skin, sleep disorders and fatigue.

    The research is far clearer with masts than is the case with handsets. Everything is pointing to long-term, low-level irradiation as being more harmful than short-term, intermittent exposure.

    There are, in fact, several studies which show that certain biological and health effects occur at *lower* radiation levels, which effects are not apparent at higher levels. One reason put forward to explain this is that at higher levels, the body produces heat shock proteins and invokes other protective mechanisms. Low-level pulsed microwave radiation comes in “under the radar” of the body’s defences.

    People who just want to live in their own houses in peace are, through no fault of their own, being precipitated into a vast and terribly complex scientific, legal, commercial, social and political debate. The simple fact is that ALL the scientific evidence on masts is showing that they are absolutely correct to be concerned, quite apart from the genuine health problems they are experiencing.

    I have repeatedly challenged the operators to come up with ONE peer-reviewed scientific study conducted around a base station which did NOT find health problems. They have failed to respond; yet the CEO of iBurst talks about working in a “scientific” way, while steadfastly ignoring the scientific evidence.

    One thing I know for certain: if these particular residents had been properly informed of the possibility of a mast going up, they would have objected. What happened with that whole process is going to have to be sorted out in court, it seems — again, at great cost the residents, who simply want to live in peace in their own homes.

  12. As far as I see it, the burden of proof is on the residents. In my mind, this should consist of:
    * EM readings in a sample of ‘affected’ resident’s houses with the mast both on and off.
    * EM readings of areas where they spend the majority of their time e.g. workplace
    * EM readings of non-affected residents
    * Ideally, a control group could be set up by possibly saying the tower is on when it is actually off.

    Given our exposure during the day to long-term low levels of EM, and shorter high-bursts (e.g. using a cellphone) I don’t see why a tower would suddenly push them so far over the limit as to lead to nausea/rashes etc. Additionally, there are documented cases of mass hysteria leading to actual medial symptoms, with specific reference to alleged “EM sensitivity”. I’ll see if I can find the papers.

    On the flip side, given the trouble Craigavon has had in the past with Telkom adsl lines, due to poor town planning, an iBurst tower near-by will provide some with relief.

  13. The burden of proof is on the residents to prove there’s a problem?

    How about the burden of proof being on the operators, to PROVE that what they are doing is safe? Who is instigating this whole situation in the first place?

    I have asked the operators often in public meetings if they can PROVE there is no possibility of long-term harm from what they are doing. They have no choice but to shake their heads and say, “We can’t prove that.”

    So let’s conduct a long-term experiment with no controls: we’ll radiate communities wholesale across the country at close range, and let’s see how many of them get ill, shall we. Let’s make it more interesting, we’ll go out of our way NOT to collect the results, sweep any possible health problems under the carpet, and tell the people who get ill (including children under two years of age, in Craigavon) that they are just “hysterical”.

    Again: the Bill of Rights of the SA Constitution gives us the absolute right NOT to be used in experiments without our informed consent.

    All these clever industry people can see *just* how to conduct these experiments on human beings. What is totally beyond them, is to grasp the fact that some people are not willing to be used as guinea pigs in their little games.

    There is a serious problem of a lack of simple humanity on the part of the operators in this regard. I do not believe this can be cured. This is why the law must be invoked. It’s essential that people’s basic constitutional rights be respected — difficult as this last part may be to grasp — ***even by telecoms operators***.

  14. If the retards of Craigavon truly believe they are sick from RF exposure from the towers then I see no reason why they cannot provide the proof ( from a qualified doctor ) to iBurst, why should iBurst pay for medical costs when the “symptoms” are likely faked anyway?

  15. @Karl. I did post a long comment complete with refs to scientific papers, but it hasn’t been posted. Duncan, can you resolve?

    Anyway, the experiments have already been conducted, that’s why ICASA has such strict guidelines on emissions for devices. ICASA’s guidelines are based on over 20 years of cumulative research by several countries including our own, and follow the international best practises.

    So in short, it has already been proved that is has no effect. If you are claiming Craigavon residents are an outlier to the rest of the research, then yes, the burden of proof is on the residents.

    (As a minor correction, a “control” is the part of the experiment where all variables are kept the same except the condition you are testing, I didn’t mean it as “a protection”)


  16. Jannie van Zyl on

    The residents were to provide proof of their health-related claims by today. They (for some reason) could not do so at a pre-arranged Monday meeting but insisted the proof would be handed over at a meeting tonight. This meeting was subsequently cancelled by the residents citing they have no physical proof to hand over.

  17. Does anyone know anything about the Neotel towers being put up all over and would they have to notify residents in the area before seting one up. any information would help and appreciated

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