I have been mandated by Bakgatla Ba Kgafela to respond to the recent press statement by the Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology published in The Monitor of 12th October 2009 and other publications.
The press statement is regrettable for three reasons necessitating a response.
Firstly the statement negatively preempts discussions which are due to be held between Bakgatla elders and the Minister of Science and technology following the Mochudi kgotla meeting of 3rd October 2009. Bakgatla elders are still waiting for an appointment with the minister and have been told that the permanent secretary in the ministry would arrange such a meeting.
Secondly, the press statement is factually incorrect in a material manner. It misleads the public on a fundamental issue of public health and safety. The statement goes a long way quoting sections of an expert report on ionizing radiation as if the concern regarding the Tower is about ionizing radiation. The concern of Bakgatla is not about ionizing radiation ( eg from Uranium and other radio active substances) but rather about non ionizing radiation by micro waves emitted from towers. The press statement conveniently omits to quote the relevant portion of the report dealing with non ÔÇôionizing radiation which states in its conclusion number 6.3 “This inspection does not rule out the presence of non ionizing radiation in the area especially around the tower. Enquiries can be made with the Botswana telecommunications Authority in matters relating to the presence of other forms of radiation especially from microwaves and radio waves.”
We find it disturbing that the author of the press statement has chosen to quote an irrelevant part of the expert report and leave out a most relevant part dealing with the subject of our concern i.e. non ionizing radiation.
Over and above quoting an irrelevant part of the report and thereby misleading the public, the press statement fails to inform the public of a critical fact that the Botswana Telecommunications Authority ( BTA) , who are supposed to advise on non ionizing radiation, is in possession of a heap of evidence showing that non ionizing radiation has been proved to be harmful to human health and they (BTA), have made no effort to refute such evidence or to assure Bakgatla that Towers are safe, in the light of the evidence. There is correspondence challenging them to do so. This evidence includes amongst others, resolutions passed at International fora attended by the most eminent and esteemed scientists of this world such as the Salzburg resolution of August 2000; the Catania resolution of September 2002; the Benevento Resolution of 2006; resolution of the Russian National Committee on Non-ionizing radiation of April 2008; European Parliament resolution of 18th September 2008 which was reinforced by yet another resolution of the European Parliament in April 2009 as recent as six months ago. The passing of these resolutions was informed and backed by more than two thousand papers on scientific findings all pointing to the same conclusion that non ionizing radiation from towers at the present public safety standards is harmful to human health and may be responsible for an array of modern illnesses. The FREIBURGER APPEAL and others is more and more of such evidence which keeps mounting by the day.
Thirdly, it is the responsibility of BTA and the mobile phone industry to disclose this kind of information to the public in order for the public to make informed choices on the matter.
The law mandates them to do so. Section seven of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act mandates that the public be consulted when activities such as proliferation of Cell phone Tower is undertaken. This is more the case in the present day when EMF radiation is considered the number one environmental concern of the world. It is unlawful for public officials to conceal this information from the public and portray a picture as if there is absolutely no foundation or merit in the concern being raised by Bakgatla. The Press statement omits to inform the public of this right which they have and why this law is not being observed when it was designed to provide a platform for the public to contribute its opinion on a matter concerning their health.
It is not right for the permanent secretary to tell the public that (1) Cell phone towers do not pose any risk to public health and (2) there is no evidence to show that towers pose a risk to public health, when his office either is in possession of or has access to piles of evidence from all over the world pointing to the contrary. The report by the Bio Initiative Group of scientists, which informed the resolutions of the European parliament, provides compelling evidence which cannot be ignored and must be disclosed to the public.
Unfortunately most people go about their daily lived ignorant of this information and uncaring about what goes on around them. However, those who care enough about issues of public health will read about these resolutions and educate themselves about developments in the world on this subject. It is only upon caring to know and be informed that one will appreciate that the issue being raised by Bakgatla is very serious. It is so serious that communities elsewhere in the world, who are miles ahead in technological advancement, have recognized the seriousness of the issue and are taking steps to protect their public whilst we in Botswana allow ourselves to live in ignorant denial.
Our position as Bakgatla is that we refuse to live in denial of an issue of public health so fundamental to our future. We will continue to press for truth and public awareness and to open our Kgotla to dialogue with all stake holders when they do finally decide to speak to us. We have made attempts to dialogue with Mascom and BTA all of which have failed because they do not want to talk to us on this subject.
They ignore all our correspondence and invitations to talk. Recently they ignored our invitation to attend a kgotla meeting to discuss these issues, yet the permanent secretary sees it appropriate to assure the public through the media that towers are safe when his office should have done so through the appropriate procedure of dialogue at the Kgotla, consistent with the law and long standing Setswana Tradition.
Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Spokesperson