MeerKAT a beacon of economic development in Carnarvon

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The newly-launched MeerKAT radio telescope, the gem of the Karoo and the precursor of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), has brought more than just astronomers to Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. 

Billed as the most sensitive radio telescope in the world after scientists unveiled breath-taking images from the centre of the milky way galaxy, the project has empowered local businesses, contributed to infrastructure investment and opened up educational and employment opportunities for the small town, says Kareeberg Municipality Mayor Norman van Wyk. 

The prospects of major scientific research has attracted scientists and tourists to the local town, and that has led to local contractors getting a lot of work. 

This includes, among others, visitors and scientists spending R3 million on catering companies, R4 million on transport and local entrepreneurs being given business support by the MeerKAT project managers. 

Van Wyk says young people in the area are also reaping the benefits of the projects by accessing bursary opportunities to study at technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. 

SKA South Africa facilitates human capital development programmes to 22 schools that are located in town that surround the SKA project, which reaches 5 400 learners. 

In addition to a tarred road and several Wi-Fi hotspots in the local community, 72 students are studying at technical colleges for further education and training. 

“I am mentioning these things as highlights of the success that comes out of a partnership between government and the private sector. SKA has also committed to help register local black entrepreneurs on the central supply database to ensure that everyone has a chance to tender for government contracts,” Van Wyk says. 

In his address at the launch of the 64-dish MeerKAT on 13 July in Carnarvon, Deputy President David Mabuza said 75% of the components that went into the construction of the MeerKAT were sourced locally.

During construction, more than R134 million was spent on local suppliers, and 351 people were trained by major SKA contractors. 

“In addition, more than R110 million was awarded to 16 small and medium enterprises through a financial assistance programme.

“This has empowered local industry and institutions to acquire skills and expertise in advanced technologies, and to grow their international competitiveness,” Mabuza said.

The Deputy President said there was no doubt that the launch of the MeerKAT further strengthens the prospects of a larger role for South Africa in the construction of the SKA, and promises numerous benefits for the country and the region as a whole.

“There has been a visible impact on the real estate sector of the Northern Cape, which has led to new economic opportunities for local communities.

“It gives me pleasure that the SKA project has had a direct impact on job creation, thus changing the lives of many families. The SKA project has created 7 284 employment opportunities through the construction of the MeerKAT and related projects.

“These include land acquisition, the resurfacing of 80km of road to the site, the construction of 110km of power lines, fibre rollout, as well as the MeerKAT data centre,” Mabuza said.  –