Tower of Babel as villagers take on phone giants

A group of Eastern Cape villagers are threatening to take cellphone giants MTN and Vodacom to court for what they claim is a breach of contract.

The two companies allegedly failed to pay rent for a cellphone tower situated in the village.

The Dispatch understands the tower belongs to Telkom, which leases to the other cellphone companies.

Telkom spokesman Gugu Maqetuka did not respond to e-mailed questions.

The tall structure is situated at Elibomvini village in Fort Malan 25km outside Dutywa.

Yesterday Vodacom spokesman Byron Kennedy said they did not have to pay the villagers as the tower did not belong to them.

“Vodacom leases the Fort Malan site in question directly from a third party and therefore there are no payments due by Vodacom towards the property owners,” he said.

“The third party is responsible for obtaining the necessary approvals from the land owner and/or community and is also responsible for the payment of the lease.”

Elibomvini headman Zwelonke Somdaka said the two companies had not paid a cent despite villagers having “sacrificed their ancestral land” for them.

Somdaka said it was only after villagers threatened to demolish the tower that MTN offered to pay R500 a month in 2015.

“An MTN representative negotiated to pay a lump sum for a backlog followed by a monthly rent. But not a cent has been deposited.”

Stanley Kacheche, the project manager at Ericsson, the company contracted by MTN to install the networks, confirmed he was the representative.

“It is true I made the deal on behalf of MTN but that monthly rental was for road access through the village, not for the tower, which is owned by Telkom.” — malibongwed@dispatch.co.za

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