Pandor drums up support for SKA

Friday, March 30, 2012

De Aar - Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has rallied South Africans behind the country's bid to host what will be the world's biggest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

"If South Africa is chosen to host the SKA, we hope the project's two billion-euro price tag would spark a new sense of scientific achievement across the whole of Africa," the minister said on Thursday.

Pandor was speaking in De Aar as part of the Government Communication and Information System's countrywide public participation programme, which focuses on engaging the nation on developments emanating from President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address (SONA) in February.

During SONA, Zuma billed the SKA as an "infrastructure project with great potential" for the country. South Africa has already committed at least R860 billion on infrastructure development by March 2014.

South Africa, backed by other African countries including Botswana, Ghana and Namibia, is competing with Australia to host the SKA. In total, nine African countries are scheduled to commit preliminary funds to get the project off the ground.

A decision on the winning bid is expected sometime next month.

Pandor said the SKA will be 50-100 times more powerful than any current radio telescope, and will be used to collect radio waves from space and explore the universe. Once fully constructed, the SKA will consist of about 3 000 dish-shaped antennae spread over an area of over 3 000km.

Pandor, who was confident of South Africa's chances of bagging the SKA, highlighted the many spin-offs for the Karoo town of Carnarvon (in the Northern Cape), where the SKA would be situated. The opportunity, she said, would place the town on the global map and would result in infrastructure development for the province, attracting billions into Africa.

"Over the past year, all important milestones related to MeerKAT have been achieved, many of them ahead of schedule," Pandor said.

"We are proud that the SKA project is well positioned to play a pathfinder role for a new generation of global science partnerships."

The MeerKAT array is a world-class radio telescope designed to do ground-breaking science. Tenders for the construction of the MeerKAT have been submitted for construction to begin in December 2012. The MeerKAT will be one of the world's biggest and most powerful telescopes.

Last week, Cabinet expressed confidence that Africa was ready to host the SKA in southern Africa and called on Africa's development partners and the global scientific community to support Africa's bid to host the SKA.

Last night's information session in De Aar was attended by government and representatives from the private sector, who raised questions on infrastructure development, education and agriculture.

With regard to education, Pandor reiterated plans to build a university in the Northern Cape, saying it would not only improve the quality of education in the province, but would also play a role in job creation.

The building of the university was announced by Zuma during SONA.

Pandor said a total of R300 million had been allocated for preparatory work towards the building of universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

According to Pandor, the Northern Cape university would be built in Colesberg.