The MeerKAT radio te­le­scope has brought much more than big sci­ence and as­tro­nom­i­cal re­search to the Ka­roo

Public Sector Manager - - CONTENTS -

Launched just days be­fore the 100th birth­day of for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, the MeerKAT radio te­le­scope has brought much more than big sci­ence and as­tro­nom­i­cal re­search to the Ka­roo.

Lo­cated just an hour’s drive from Carnar­von in the North­ern Cape, the MeerKAT has in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in Carnar­von and sur­round­ing towns through jobs, skills and ed­u­ca­tion as well as busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal con­trac­tors since the first MeerKAT dish was in­stalled in 2014.

Deputy Pres­i­dent David Mabuza said at the launch that lo­cal­i­sa­tion de­rived a huge ben­e­fit for the project, with 75 per­cent of the com­po­nents that went into the con­struc­tion of the 64 dishes be­ing sourced lo­cally.

“Dur­ing con­struc­tion, more than R134 mil­lion was spent on lo­cal sup­pli­ers, and 351 peo­ple were trained by ma­jor Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray (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.

“There is 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,” he said.

The MeerKAT, which has been billed as the most sen­si­tive radio te­le­scope in the world, is a pre­cur­sor to the SKA te­le­scope, which – upon its com­ple­tion – will be the big­gest radio te­le­scope in the world.

A giant leap

Ahead of the Deputy Pres­i­dent’s ad­dress, Dr Fer­nando Camilo, the Chief Sci­en­tist of the South African Radio

As­tron­omy Ob­ser­va­tory (SARAO), un­veiled the clear­est view yet of the cen­tre of the Milky Way as ob­served by the MeerKAT, say­ing the com­ple­tion of

the MeerKAT was a giant leap in sci­ence.

“The cen­tre of the Milky Way, 25 000 light-years away from Earth and ly­ing be­hind the con­stel­la­tion Sagit­tar­ius (the “Teapot”), is for­ever en­shrouded by in­ter­ven­ing clouds of gas and dust, mak­ing it in­vis­i­ble from Earth us­ing or­di­nary tele­scopes. How­ever, in­fra-red, xray and, in par­tic­u­lar, radio wave­lengths pen­e­trate the ob­scur­ing dust and open a win­dow into this dis­tinc­tive re­gion with its unique four mil­lion so­lar mass black hole. “Although it’s early days with MeerKAT, and a lot re­mains to be op­ti­mised, we de­cided to go for it – and were stunned by the re­sults,” he ex­plained.

Creat­ing jobs, boost­ing tourism

In a launch event that was also at­tended by min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­ter Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and her pre­de­ces­sor Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naledi Pan­dor the te­le­scope op­er­a­tor moved the beau­ti­ful 64th dish of the MeerKAT te­le­scope in a man­ner that it ap­peared to give the Deputy Pres­i­dent a sa­lute.

Deputy Pres­i­dent Mabuza said that the MeerKAT project has left 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,” he said.

Hu­man cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ment

The Deputy Pres­i­dent added that the SKA project’s sus­tain­abil­ity has been strength­ened by its hu­man cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

“The pro­gramme has awarded 961 bur­saries in sci­ence and engi­neer­ing, in­clud­ing 133 bur­saries for re­cip­i­ents from other African coun­tries.

“SKA South Africa also in­tro­duced math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence at the lo­cal school and em­ployed a teacher for these sub­jects. Cur­rently, learn­ers from the sur­round­ing towns of Carnar­von are ac­com­mo­dated at the hos­tel at Carnar­von High School to study these sub­jects,” he said.

Through this ini­tia­tive, seven learn­ers ob­tained good passes and are en­rolled at var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties.

“The num­ber of Carnar­von High School learn­ers that are ben­e­fit­ing from full-cost un­der­grad­u­ate bur­saries and tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing col­lege fund­ing con­tin­ues to grow.

“The SKA will fur­ther assist lo­cal schools with pro­grammes in school man­age­ment, nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy de­vel­op­ment, and early child­hood de­vel­op­ment.

“The im­por­tance of early child­hood de­vel­op­ment in pro­duc­ing fu­ture sci­en­tists can­not be overem­pha­sised as this lays the foun­da­tion for holis­tic de­vel­op­ment, while cul­ti­vat­ing life­long learn­ing,” he added.

In one of for­mer Sci­ence

and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­ter Naledi Pan­dor’s vis­its to the area, she launched the 80km road and a tem­po­rary tech­ni­cal train­ing cen­tre in order to cre­ate a pool of ar­ti­sans and semi-skilled work­ers in Carnar­von and nearby towns.

To date, 21 stu­dents who grad­u­ated from the cen­tre have found em­ploy­ment at the SKA.

“A fur­ther 25 are cur­rently un­der­go­ing work-based ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing at the SKA and will com­plete trade tests in 2019 with the prospect of be­ing em­ployed on the project.

“There will be fur­ther lo­cal part­ner­ships and tourism projects that will sup­port this SKA,” the Deputy Pres­i­dent said.

In­crease in tourism

Sharon Lewis, the CEO of the North­ern Cape Tourism Au­thor­ity, said ever since the con­struc­tion of the MeerKAT com­menced four years ago, tourism in the area has been on the rise.

“When the project came, peo­ple… started ex­pand­ing their fa­cil­i­ties, new guest­houses came on board. In terms of sta­tis­tics, I am proud to an­nounce that the North­ern Cape has more than dou­bled its tourism fig­ures into the prov­ince. And more so, be­cause of the im­pact of the econ­omy, South Africans are trav­el­ling lo­cal… and be­cause of the sci­ence, peo­ple are bring­ing their chil­dren here to come and stay here, to come and see what’s here,” she said.

Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Min­is­terMmamoloko Dn[Zrb&G`n[Zg^% Deputy Pres­i­dent David Mabuza andNorth­ern Cape Premier Sylvia Lu­casat the launch of ma^ F^^kD:M kZ]bhte­le­scope.

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