Municipality build Vodacom tower without landowners permission

Posted On Monday, 14 April 2014 10:27 Published by
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Property tycoon Pierre Gerber owns a share of a pristine Karoo koppie outside Ladismith in the Western Cape, but he found a huge cellphone tower built by the local council without his permission.

Cellular tower Vodacom

Gerber wants the Kannaland municipality to explain how it entered into a commercial agreement with Vodacom  said to be worth more than R500,000   without notifying any of the more than 60 owners of the hilltop property.

Vodacom insisted it had done no wrong by entering into a rental agreement with the municipality, which owns a tiny share of the 846ha property.

The council failed to notify any of the landowners and has not shared any of the revenue. Gerber, a former ANC MP who served on the public accounts committee, wants a share of the spoils along with an explanation.

"The bottom line is that the municipality owes all of us money and their contract with Vodacom is null and void," said Gerber this week.

"Either the municipality misrepresented the situation by not disclosing the other landowners, or Vodacom didn't do their homework."

While in parliament, Gerber was one of the government's biggest landowners and had 217 registered properties listed in the Disclosure of Members' Interests register.

He owns farms and portions of farms in 29 towns or districts of the Western Cape and Northern Cape.

The Kannaland situation came to light earlier this year when Gerber phoned the council for a routine valuation update. "An official there asked me if I was the owner of the farm with the Vodacom tower. I realised I needed to do some homework," said Gerber.

A deeds search showed that the municipality was only one of about 60 owners of the remote plot. In addition, it owned a mere 0.016% of the land — about a quarter the size of Gerber's share.

Many South African farms have multiple owners because farms were passed to descendants in the form of "undivided" shares. Gerber inherited most of his land and bought an additional share about 10 years ago.

"Surely the municipality should have checked to see who the owners are?" Gerber said. He said the municipality's 10 year lease with Vodacom was renewed in February last year at a fixed rental of about R34,000 a year.

Kannaland municipality has in the past been embroiled in controversy. Its mayor, Jeffrey Donson, was convicted of indecent assault and statutory rape in 2008.

After a brief absence from the office, Donson returned as executive mayor.  The municipality was also the only one in the Western Cape to receive an "adverse finding" during the latest round of audit reports.

Cellphone towers in rural areas are regarded as potential additional income for cashstrapped farmers, who earn about R5000 a month per tower.  Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman confirmed the lease agreement with Kannaland this week, but declined to say what it was worth.

He said the municipality had at all times "represented themselves with the necessary authority in negotiating and entering into this lease".

"When Vodacom became aware of Gerber's concerns, we immediately forwarded his correspondence to the Kannaland municipality for urgent resolution, as this matter must be resolved between Kannaland municipality and the landowners directly.

"Vodacom will comply with any arrangement made between the aforementioned parties," said Boorman.

Peter Rooi, Kannaland municipality's spokesman, said it was "busy with talks with all the other landowners".

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