Property rights at risk

Geoff Jacobs, president, Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Draconian methods used by the National Command Council to deal with Covid-19 are clearly becoming popular in government circles, evidenced by the draconian regulations being proposed to allow 5G cellphone towers to be built on private property without the owner’s permission.

This is the approach adopted by Communications and Digital Technologies Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, whose draft policy was published recently.

The public have 30 days to object. And we certainly hope they will. Never mind that the draft regulations are a blatant breach of the Constitution, it is clear that either no one in the minister’s department, even the minister herself, has read this sacred document or everyone in the ministry simply holds it in contempt.

What the department wants is to give 5G network companies the right to build, maintain, alter, or remove their facilities anywhere they please – possibly even in the middle of your garden, if that is where the signal is best.

If it isn’t bad law enough, the regulations want the land owner to pay for any damage that may occur to the communication facilities (perhaps in anticipation of an irate land owner taking matters into his own hands).

To be fair, there is some consideration for the hapless landowner: The company must give 30 days’ notice of its intentions. But it must also have access to the site wherever it may be – presumably the shortest most direct route.

So, there must be consultation with the owners. But they cannot charge an access fee, except in cases of “intrusive electronic communications networks or facilities, such as masts”, when a “reasonable access fee” may be charged. No definitions of the height and width of the masts or what a reasonable fee might be. Lawyers will be rubbing their hands in glee.

It will be cold comfort for landowners confronted by these proposed regulations, knowing that disputes over “reasonability” will be resolved by the complaints and compliance committee of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

It is extraordinary that some people not in government are being quoted saying these proposals are reasonable. Perhaps they are unaware that 5G towers need to be much closer together for the system to work – perhaps only 500 metres between them.

Driving a coach and horses through individual property rights is allegedly the price we must pay for our 4th industrial revolution. If so, it is going to be a very dystopian future.