This is Episode 10. If you wish to read from the beginning, the posts are placed in reverse order here.
Written by Niki Moore, edited by Gudrun Kaiser ….. Until now, our heroine has been angry in an all-purpose, sort-of generalised, on-basic-principles kind of way. But now it has become PERSONAL.
Our closest illegal MTN cell mast lost its life on a dark and stormy night in October 2017. During a tropical thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning, a very tidy and civic-minded bolt of lightning struck the green electrical box that powered the illegal MTN mast and burned it out completely. The evil antennae hiccupped … and died.
Members of our community were believed, by MTN, to have been helping matters along. In a thundering letter to us, Gerard Naidoo threatened us with jail time, because we had interfered with ‘essential infrastructure’. People were going to die, he said, because now they would not be able to phone the police or an ambulance.
We all blew a collective raspberry. ‘Essential infrastructure’ was usually accompanied by building plans and regulatory permissions. And in some strange fashion our police and ambulances had been muddling along quite successfully until then without any help from MTN.
Jacqui O’Sullivan subsequently issued a self-righteous statement that MTN had only been responding to the ‘wishes of their customers’ – a statement we also greeted with hoots of derision. No-one had wanted MTN’s 123 masts in Durban: there had been community protests, petitions and meetings against them. But it confirmed our suspicions that MTN’s enslavement to customer’s wishes only applied when those wishes dovetailed with MTN’s profit incentive.
So however it happened, our little community was greeted on the morning after our obliging bolt of lightning killed the evil mast with the technological equivalent of a pair of smoking takkies. The news had spread like, well, like wildfire, and the mood immediately lightened.
Even the people in our neighbourhood who had not endured the kind of pain experienced by Andre and myself had been complaining of interrupted sleep, frequent headaches, anxiousness and depression, and a general feeling of unease. They were all hugely relieved by the demise of the mast.
For me, not so much. The upper storey of my house was still in the crossfire of the other two masts, … but it was an improvement. I was able to leave the garage and return ‘home’.
But then something really strange happened.
A few weeks after the mast had burned down, I was busy in my office trying to find some work to make up for eleven months of professional drought, when I felt that old familiar tingle. I knew this feeling well – it had always happened whenever I was in a high radiation zone from a cell mast or Wi-Fi.
It starts as pins and needles. Then after a few hours, the pins and needles turn into a tight painful itch like bad sunburn. My skin feels a couple of sizes too small. There’s an unaccountable feeling of dread, a stomach-churning anxiety and nausea that hovers like bad indigestion.
I phoned my near-neighbour Daniel, who was currently in custody of the radiation meter and who also lives in the shadow of the mast.
“Is the MTN mast still off?” I asked after the preliminaries. “Because I am getting that strange feeling like old times.”
He assured me that he had been testing for radiation every day since the mast had been called to the angels, with no flicker of life.
“Strange,” I thought again, and wrote it off to a ‘ghost effect’ – the way some amputees still feel an itch in a missing limb.
The following morning I woke with a sizeable headache. I never used to mind headaches – they were usually a reminder that I’d had a good time the night before – but these headaches are not nice.
They are tight and hot, and there is only one way to describe them … as if your grey matter is being sliced and lightly toasted on all sides. They do not resemble your common-or-garden pain-on-the-brain.
Now I was puzzled and alarmed. If the mast was off and radiation was low, but I was still getting symptoms of EMF poisoning, had I been wrong all along?
I dosed myself with extra-strength painkillers (I had stopped buying ordinary paracetamol; it was just not capable of the heavy lifting) and tried to carry on with my day.
The following morning I woke up clutching my head to prevent it from exploding. Against all reason, my hair hurt. My muscles were queuing up to complain. The noise of opening my eyes set up an echo. I tried not to move in case bits of me fell off. They were not much, as bits went, but they had sentimental value and I had grown quite attached to them.
Somehow I managed to slither to the medicine cabinet and gulp down the strongest legal medication I could find, and then all I was able to do was lie on my back, weakly pawing the air and groaning, until the tablets took effect.
As soon as I was able to move, I phoned Daniel.
“You need to come over here,” I told him, every word like a red-hot poker through my head. “Something is really wrong. Bring the meter.”
Bless his heart, he was at my door in less than half an hour, brandishing the Acousticom. He fired it up, and pointed it at our mast, squatting malevolently in the distance. It was completely dead.
But then he turned the meter towards the house, and the little lights flashed like a disco.
“There’s something in your house that is giving off the radiation,” he said, and so we followed the Pied Piper of the Meter like two unlikely rats – straight to my office. To one corner.
I moved the desk, and found, on the floor, an unused portable phone that the cat had knocked off my worktable a few days earlier. The instrument had become unseated from the cradle, causing it to emit … very strong EMF radiation … since a few days before …
We unplugged the phone, the Acousticom returned to a calm green, and four hours later the pain had completely disappeared.
In the debating chamber of my mind a dozen thoughts now got up and began to argue.
I was now convinced, beyond all the scoffing of the sceptics, that I was sensitive to EMF. This was not the ‘nocebo effect’ where you feel symptoms because you are expecting to feel them. I had no idea that the phone had been emitting the rays, but I had felt them nonetheless. This also confirmed the scientific theory that EMF sensitivity evolves when people are exposed to high levels of radiation. MTN had been bombing us with tissue-searing emissions for months.
I went back to my research online and began reading again, but this time with certainty. With the illegal MTN mast down, and a meter to track down any stray rays, I could function in peace. Life could continue.
But not for long.
Around the end of November, a work crew arrived to repair our illegal MTN mast. We served them with the letter from the city’s Legal Department that forbade them to do this, and – just for the heck of it – served it again on MTN Durban, MTN Head Office and all stops in-between. And just like before, they ignored us and went ahead. As our local councillor told us, with a flourish of gloom, no-one really pays much attention to the city’s Legal Department.
The mast was re-activated on 6 December 2017, and I knew of it within a few hours, because the old pain sidled back like a waiter who has messed up the orders but is still holding out for a tip. The thought of the impending onslaught unnerved me completely and I left home.
I moodily lived through Christmas and New Year in the company of (un-irradiated) family, and returned home in January 2018, preparing to move back into the garage. I had no money, no options, no future, no hope – and now no home. From now onwards, my life would be a spectrum of pain on the continuum from ‘manageable’ to ‘stepping barefoot on a Lego’.
But somewhere in my beaten and battered soul, the tiny worm of rebellion flashed a fang.
I would be damned if I would put up with a ruined life in order to facilitate the corruption and dishonesty of Vincent Ngubane, Gerard Naidoo, Giovanni Chiarelli, Jacqui O’Sullivan, Mervyn Govender and Rob Shuter. I wanted to get so far up their noses that I would raise their collective hats.
But what could I do against a crooked billion-dollar multi-national company and a notoriously corrupt city council? I would have to become the mosquito in the room.
First I had to protect myself in order to continue to function. So I bought a handy little radiation alarm that issued a warning beep when EMF levels became too high. And I ordered (at eye-watering expense) a piece of shielding fabric from Switzerland that I sewed into a coccoon that I could dive into when needed.
Like an unlikely Don Quixote riding out to do battle with windmills, I would now amass my troops – who were as scattered and sparse as a balding man’s comb-over – and sound the charge. Or rather, I would have to hire a lawyer who would do the charging. The (money-suctioning) legal route was now the only option available to us where the light at the end of the tunnel was not the tunnel on fire.
So we went to the courts.
And this would turn out to be the most mystifying, terrifying and stupefying process of all.
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