IT must be a church’s worst nightmare to earn the resentment of the community not for preaching the gospel, but for something as un-churchlike as a cellphone tower.
Such is the dilemma of the Dias Dutch Reformed Church in Broadway, Port Alfred.
The proposed cell tower for the church property was only publicly revealed last month, but negotiations with cell mast contractor Atlas Towers date back to last year, with a contract having been signed on August 11.
The church was approached by Atlas Towers which requested permission to erect cell masts on its properties – in Port Alfred, Nemato, Bushman’s River and Boknes. The church council approved this “in principle” and mandated its executive to sign a contract with Atlas Towers by which they could start the process for approval by the municipality.
The church had not counted on the strong feelings in the community about cell towers in residential areas
The church council said it had decided that, should the process be successful, all rental income from the masts would go towards different community projects that the church is involved in.
In and of itself, this sounds noble, but the church had not counted on the strong feelings in the community about cell towers in residential areas, especially the direct neighbours of the Dias NGK in Croydon Circle.
When these neighbours found out last month, they submitted written objections to the municipality and contacted the church to express their opposition to the proposed tower.
Residents even held a silent protest outside the church on Sunday May 28, hoping to make congregants aware of their displeasure as they arrived for the church service.
Dominie Wikus Venter had hoped to prevent this protest taking place by issuing a letter assuring residents that the church had “withdrawn from the process” of erecting the cell tower.
But Dawie van Wyk of the Port Alfred Residents and Ratepayers Association and other residents were unconvinced because there had been no formal withdrawal of the application following the original notice.
At the protest, church members even came up to the protestors to tell them “the whole thing is off” and that they were wasting their time standing out in the chill wind.
But it turns out the protestors’ scepticism was correct, because the church council has now admitted it cannot withdraw from the process without a possibly costly legal battle because it gave power of attorney to Atlas Towers, which has no intention of withdrawing the application.
It is a sad quandary for the church to be in, and stressful for the community which opposes a tower being erected in their midst.
Now all have to await the decision of Ndlambe Municipality town planning.
– Jon Houzet