Investment hopes ride on SKA decision

2012-02-15 14:45

Cape Town - April 4 this year is a red-letter day on South Africa's investment calendar.

It is the date on which international board members of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope will meet to decide whether the core site for the giant instrument will be built in South Africa or in Australia.

Science and technology director general Phil Mjwara said on Wednesday that if SA won the bid, billions of rand would flow into the local economy.

After updating Parliament's science and technology portfolio committee on the bid process, he noted that the cost of building dishes for the MeerKAT radio telescope, in the Karoo, was about R1bn.

"If we're spending about R1bn on 64 dishes, you can imagine that if all of the dishes for the SKA are going to be manufactured here - about 3 000 dishes - you can just do the maths. So huge resources are going to flow into South Africa," Mjwara said.

"But it's not just going to be the huge resources; it's the intellectual capital that's going to flow in, with all the spin-offs in terms of some of the ICT and processing technology that we need for the country."


Asked if it would be correct to say the SKA would provide a multi-billion rand boost to the South African economy, he replied: "That would not be an exaggeration."

Earlier, the committee heard that the April 4 decision would be made by four countries: China, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.

For SA to win, three of these four SKA founding-member countries need to vote in its favour.

Science and technology's deputy director general for research, development and innovation Val Munsami told MPs that if there was no clear-cut decision on April 4, deciding which country hosted the SKA could become a "prolonged process".

He said this could involve a second round of voting, six weeks after the first.

If there was still no decision, there would then be "some sort of negotiation" process, involving further inputs from the two bidders.

MPs were advised on Wednesday not to focus on the "noise" coming out of Australia on the SKA bid.


Mjwara told them SA was focusing on "things we are doing well".

These included the country having better infrastructure in place around the proposed core site, near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.

Media reports in Australia have stressed its political and economic stability, and have been interpreted as a swipe at SA and its partners.

While the SKA core site will be built in South Africa - if the country's bid succeeds - many of the receiving dishes for the radio telescope will be spread across eight other African countries.

These are Botswana, Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya and Zambia.

The SKA gets its name from the fact that the total radio wave receiving area of its 3 000 satellite dishes adds up to 1km².

Although about half of the dishes will be concentrated in a 5km wide core region, the rest are to be located further out, some up to 3 000km away.


Astronomers believe the power of the instrument - the SKA will be 50 times more powerful than any previous radio telescope - will help them unlock some of the universe's biggest mysteries, including the origin of dark energy and whether Einstein's gravitational waves really exist.

Mjwaru said SA had been "engaging with China" on partnerships around the SKA.

He also suggested that the estimated cost of the international project, €1.5bn, might be too low.

"We are making contributions into the costing of the SKA... from the work done by the SKA project office in South Africa, we are of the opinion that the 3 000 dishes we are going to be building, the €1.5bn may not be adequate," he said.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, Australia's science minister Chris Evans is to travel to China and Italy this week to make his country's case to international authorities.

Australia is in partnership with New Zealand in its bid to build the SKA.

  • Bjorn - 2012-02-15 14:59

    I live about 60 kilomtres from the site where Australia plans on building the SKA. Sorry South Africa, but the decision was already made as the talk around Oz is your political instability. So no need to wait until 4 April for the announcement, you haven't got it. Thanks your uselss ANC and all its useless members and followers.

      Moraka - 2012-02-15 15:09

      sick bastard

      Gary - 2012-02-15 15:12

      Hahahaa, Bjorn you idiot. So you live in the arse-end of Australia. We are glad you left SA dude...

      johannesvaneeden - 2012-02-15 15:19

      What do you mean political instability? Look at your own government - do you call that political stability!

      danie.malherbe1 - 2012-02-15 15:24

      Bjorn, I would not be so certain. There's a lot of resources in Africa and the rest of the world have real interest in it. If SET capability in Africa improves, there's a strong case of improved global access to Africa's resources. SKA in South Africa, massive investment in science and engineering capability, resulting in efficiency improvements for accessing the content's resources. In my mind the decision is very much 50/50. Political stability is definitely in favour for Australia, but South Africa takes all the points for the potential of positive global impact on second tier derivatives. Let's see what China, Italy, Netherlands and UK thinks on 4 April. I'm supporting SA all the way!

      Bjorn - 2012-02-15 15:40

      Johannesvaneeden. There is a big difference between political instability in South Africa compared to Australia. Yours will results in violence and mass murder, outrs in turn will make for some newspaper headline for 3 days and then all is solved.

      Jdcptza - 2012-02-15 15:41

      What rot. Aus doesnt need the SKA, we do.We as a country are comitted to improving the future for all, i am sure of that! And i am sure we will get it. Lets hope the panel do the right thing!!

      Willie - 2012-02-15 15:49

      It is fine, leave a good life by treating the aborigines the way you do

      Gert - 2012-02-15 15:50

      Bjorn Read this. Its not as clear cut as you say it is.

      Celtis - 2012-02-15 16:33

      This is not the world cup that you win the bid, build the white elephants, throw the party, clean up when they leave and sit with the bills to pay. This is an investment in technology, resources, infrastructure and its long term. And that is why SA will not get it.

      Lungani - 2012-02-15 17:18

      @Bjorn...I am not sure if you are one of the few people who left because they could not accept black person being their president/ruler; jumped to promote another apartheid against the aborigines in Australia. They said all sorts of things but yet we are the examples for reference of hosting world class events(world cup).The sun belongs to Africa and not your flood ridden country.

  • Bjorn - 2012-02-15 15:43

    Danie Malherbe. Australia will get the chinese vote. China is bailing Europe out so they will all follow China. That is unfortuinately how it goes, despite africa or south Africa showing signs of a revival for that matter.

      HenriLeRiche - 2012-02-15 16:32

      I agree. The SKA project is just another AA project in the making. I don't support racist policies that past the point of "rectifying" past mistakes. Like black people supported the All blacks during Apartheid, so do I support SKA Australia during ANC rule. Anything they touch turn to turds.

  • myles.thies - 2012-02-15 16:18

    @Bjorn - lemme guess. Some 'sour grape' expat? Either that or a complete ignoramus. If you're actually that obtuse that you believe everything you read in the Aussie press about instability in SA then its quite obvious you are not very well informed. Its politics just like yours - Kevin Rudd ousted in party coup, corrupt judges in Australia... Really! Grow up

  • Jdcptza - 2012-02-15 16:38

    To the Australians i say, you are too Southerly sir...too Sourtherly. On the 4th April you will say to one another 'our bid went South' South of course meaning it went bad, just as you are too far South. This is what i say.

  • Lungani - 2012-02-15 17:18

    @Bjorn...I am not sure if you are one of the few people who left because they could not accept black person being their president/ruler; jumped to promote another apartheid against the aborigines in Australia. They said all sorts of things but yet we are the examples for reference of hosting world class events(world cup).The sun belongs to Africa and not your flood ridden country.

  • ludlowdj - 2012-02-16 14:27

    I really don't mind the attempt to get this and other contracts which will undoubtedly make South Africa a household name internationally, I do however strongly object to the outright lies and propaganda used to sell the idea to the public where costs and benefits are concerned. In reality the the billion that "flow" into the country will be adsorbed by government and a few select manufacturers, in other words only a limited few big business owners, shareholders and government itself will realize any real profit. Take note that I speak here only of financial profits as the scientific gain remains unknown until the system starts to bear fruit. Also any labor related spending on unskilled and semi skilled workers will be temporary and short term contracts during construction while permanent posts will be exclusively for highly trained scientific staff. The capitalist system must be accepted as a by the few for the few system which does not in general benefit anyone other than those least needy while the masses gain no benefit whatsoever.

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