South Africa and Australia were the short listed contenders to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. This would be the largest ever of its kind and would enable astronomers to detect signals dating from the very beginnings of the universe. An international committee would make the decision in 2012. A site had been identified in the
An astronomical reserve area had been proclaimed to ensure optimal conditions for reception. This would have an impact on radio transmissions, including cellular telephone networks, in the area. Solutions would have to be found to minimise the effect on the population. The project team was upgrading the
Members were disappointed at the low percentage of black and female students in the academic programme. Children from rural and township schools were at a disadvantage. The need for lobbying to support
Presentation by Department of Science and Technology
Mr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG): DST introduced the delegation. He anticipated that Members might not have made acquaintance with the project.
Mr Bernie Fanaroff, SKA Project Director, SASPO briefed Members and said that a farm had been allocated in the
Mr Fanaroff said that the estimated cost was 1.5 billion Euros, which he anticipated would escalate to 2 billion. The United States of America (USA) would contribute a third, a European consortium a third and the balance would come from the rest of the world. He estimated that the life cycle of the SKA would be fifty years. Maintenance still had to be addressed, but experience showed that up to 10% of the initial capital cost had to spend on maintenance annually. Six countries were currently involved in the consortium and more would still join. There was participation by 55 research institutes in 19 countries.
Mr Fanaroff remarked that planning of the SKA had started in the 1990's. The plan was to build an antenna array, which would cover a square kilometre. In 2003, five countries had responded to an invitation to submit proposals to host the SKA. The application process ended in 2005. From the applicants,
Mr Fanaroff said that DST had embarked on a four-year study into the design, cost and site tests. There were still questions surrounding ownership and the establishment of a council to manage the project. Fund raising would also have to be addressed. The SKA would only be built from 2014. He anticipated that it would take up to ten years to complete the project. Funding could therefore be spread over the entire period of building. A problem was that the European partners wanted to secure a third of the related contracts in return for their investment.
Mr Fanaroff said that a joint committee had to study the proposed sites. A recommendation would be made towards the end of 2011 and the final site would be decided in mid 2012. . There was not an infinite amount of money available. Many projects had been nominated but priorities would have to be assigned and some of the projects would have to be dropped.
Mr Fanaroff said that if
Mr Fanaroff said that the Meerkat telescope was a smaller version of SKA. It would consist of 80 dishes. There was a need to prove
Mr Fanaroff explained that the telescope detected radio waves. It had to be extremely sensitive and had to be located in an area clear of television transmissions and radio waves. An astronomy reserve area would have to be proclaimed. Parliament had already passed an Act to provide for this.
Mr Fanaroff said that this would be the biggest project of its kind in the world, and
Mr Fanaroff continued that the mission driven innovations that the SKA would bring would develop crucial skills. The Meerkat telescope would be one of the largest in the world.
Mr Fanaroff said that
Mr Fanaroff sketched the background. The site chosen for the SKA and Meerkat was near Carnarvon in the
Mr Fanaroff said that the SKA project offices were in Pinelands in
Mr Fanaroff described some of the other international radio astronomy projects. The PAPER telescope was looking for the first stars using an array of 120 dishes. The C-BASS telescope was looking for leftover radiation from the big bang.
Mr Fanaroff said that there were three criteria, which used in selection of the site for the SKA. The first criterion was the scientific and technological performance. The restriction of radio frequency interference (RFI) at present and in the future would be regulated by the Astronomy Geographical Advantage (AGA) Act. RFI would be measured at the end of April. The site would have to be deserted at the time. Future control would be needed over the environment. Other considerations were the configuration, power supplies and the data transfer rate. The second criterion was cost. The South African bid would be 50% cheaper than the
Mr Tshepo Seekoe, Chief Director, SKA Bid, DST added that the AGA Act had been envisaged to maintain the pristine conditions which gave the Northern Cape the ideal radio and optical conditions. The AGA Act would prohibit or regulate activities, which would disturb the environment. Radio transmission levels would be kept low. There were three protected areas. Firstly, the core area, the immediate area in which the telescope was located. There had to be total radio silence in this area. Secondly, the central zone was a ring around the core area and thirdly, the co-ordinated area was a wider area where SKA would negotiate with service providers. The process of declaration was under way, and should be completed in a year or two.
Mr Fanaroff stressed the crucial importance of site selection.
The Chairperson asked if there was any problem with Transnet operations in the area.
Mr Fanaroff replied that SKA had held good discussions with Transnet. The communications system in use was designed so that transmissions were confined to the railway line. They had held extensive discussions with mobile operators. Regulations had been published. SKA was involved with international committees, which reported to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Communication in the area was mainly by Telkom party lines. It was considered uneconomical to fix broken lines or to upgrade the existing network. There was little television coverage in the area. Sentech only broadcast SABC 2 signals in the area although there were some illegal repeaters. Television signals were rebroadcast into the towns.
Mr Fanaroff said that regulations limited broadcasts, GSM signals, mobile communication and data networks. Television signals would be migrating to digital broadcasts. Radio signals could continue on frequencies below 100 MHz. SKA was studying the various service providers. There were alternative solutions for voice communications but data was a problem. Many of the farmers used cell extenders to connect to the network. Solutions would be deployed over a year or so, and would be the same as the regulations prescribed in terms of the AGA Act.
Mr Fanaroff said that SKA had engaged with the community. Public hearings had been held and forums had been established. They had engaged with the teachers who were very enthusiastic. There was much local involvement. A socio-economic survey had been conducted in Carnarvon, Williston and de Aar. There were many social problems in the area such as unemployment and alcoholism. Many of the men were migrant labourers. The pattern of agriculture had changed. Many of those who had been farm labourers had now moved to the towns. Many of the farms had been converted to game farms. These required much less maintenance.
Mr Fanaroff said that a complaint raised by the public was that all the benefits were accruing to Carnarvon rather than Williston. SKA projects made use of local labour but there were problems. Some bed and breakfast establishments were serving the visiting scientists and construction workers. SKA had provided a cyber laboratory at Carnarvon High School (HS) and planned to build a cyber cafe in the town. They had brought in two mathematics and science teachers for the high school and planned to do the same for the primary school.
Mr Fanaroff said that
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) said that the presentation was interesting. She asked how young scientists were being developed. She asked how students from deep rural areas would benefit. There should be an audit. She asked if people in the area understood how cellular telephone communications would be affected. She proposed that a workshop be held to educate the Members of the Committee where the SKA team could make a longer presentation. She noted the comment that passing cars and devices such as microwave ovens could affect reception.
Mr Fanaroff replied that passing motor vehicles were only a problem within a few kilometres of the receivers. Most of the roads in the area were very quiet. The standard was for traffic of eighteen passing vehicles a day. The problem was only with petrol-driven vehicles as the interference came from fuel injection systems. Microwave ovens would only be a problem in the core area. They had previously offered to host a workshop for Members.
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) said that science was the order of the era. She asked how many persons with disability were involved.
Mr Fanaroff relied that the distribution of students in terms of gender, race and class was an important question. It was difficult to get young black and female students with digital signal experience. To find such students in postgraduate programmes was impossible. Almost all the students accepted for undergraduate studies were black and as many women were accepted as possible. Applicants for SKA assistance had to show that they could not afford to pay for their studies. Experience showed that students from rural areas and township schools struggled. Students who had attended the former Model C schools obtained the top marks.
Mr Fanaroff said that there were several problems. A steering committee had been appointed. Before SKA had made provision for the extra teachers at Carnarvon HS, the music teacher had taught mathematics. Better quality teaching in mathematics and science would give the learners a better chance. Online education could also be used to help.
Mr Fanaroff said that under the previous curriculum, only fifty learners had registered for mathematics on the higher grade in the whole of the
Mr Fanaroff admitted that there were gender, racial and class problems that still needed to be overcomed. SKA interacted well with the Department of Education and had good relations with their provincial counterparts in the
Ms L Jacobus (ANC) said that funding was always a problem. This was a long-term project. She asked if the estimated costs were spread over seven years
Mr Mjwara replied that there were two funding plans. Mainly the international community would fund the SKA.
Mr.Mjwara continued that funding for the Meerkat telescope was a difficult issue. They wanted to start with the scientific work in 2013 and commission the telescope in 2014. It would need to be upgraded. They were looking over a period of ten to fifteen years. A funding plan had been prepared for National Treasury (NT). This would fall outside the current Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period of three years.
Mr L Mkhize (ANC) commented on the high unemployment rate in the area. He asked if there was a mine near the site. The project would boost
Mr Mjwara replied that the mine alluded to was near the Australian site. Should
Mr Fanaroff confirmed that the nearest mine to the South African site was in Prieska.
Mr P Smith (IFP) understood the selection criteria. He asked what room there was for lobbying support. He asked what the logic was for the location of the outlying stations. The presentation indicated that it was a better solution to extend the chain of stations into
Mr Fanaroff replied that the restrictions were part of the Act. They were still trying to work out the solutions. Many of the provisions would only come into force should
Mr Mjwara said that it was still early days for lobbying. SKA had an office in
Ms M Shinn (DA) said that her colleagues in the DA had received reports from the community on electronic communications in the future. They alleged a lack of consultation. Mr Fanaroff had made various promises to the community. At later meetings, Ms Tracy Cheetham had distanced SKA from his promises. The community felt that SKA was operating with a hidden agenda and that they were stringing the community along until it was too late.
Mr Mjwara had sent Ms Shinn copies of letters, emails and a newspaper article. Most of these were from farmers in the Williston area. Some meetings had been held there but not as many as in Carnarvon. One cellular operator had tilted an antenna down and as a result some people had lost their signal. SKA had not been told about this. The arrangement now is that no action would be taken before discussion. Extenders would be provided for those who had lost their signal. One of these had in fact been erected on the farm of a complainant. They would try to rectify the situation.
Mr Mjwara said that there was a perception that all future cellular coverage would be stopped. This would not be the case in the towns, but it was not so straightforward on the farms. Voice communication could be provided. There was a possibility of having satellite links to the network. There were no easy solutions. Residents would not lose their current services. They wanted to have cellular coverage in the future. Some farms would experience problems and others not.
Mr Mjwara denied that Mr Fanaroff have made promises to the community. There was a service level agreement in place with Eskom. An optic fibre link would be provided to Carnarvon, which they were still trying to fund. It would not be viable to provide optic fibre links to every farm. This was not done anywhere in the world. It was also not viable to have a cellular tower on each farm. They were working on a solution. Staff had held meetings at many
Mr P Monyobe, (Project Manager: Northern Cape Department of Education said that they had met the previous week to manage perceptions. Carnarvon and Williston fell within different districts. One area would experience greater benefits, as there would be more construction there. The Act was clear. Nothing would be taken away from the people without an alternative system being provided. Everything would have to be cleared by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
Mr Mjwara acknowledged the need to communicate more comprehensively. The DST needed to be more involved. There was a need to manage expectations.
The Chairperson told Ms Shinn to send the letters in her possession to the Committee.
Mr Seekoe said that the AGA Act had been the first consultation with Parliament. National government and the
Mr Seekoe said that partnerships were needed in
Mr Seekoe said that SKA was working with operators. One option was the use of semi-directional transmitters. All of the dishes would have to detect the same signal for it to be declared valid. This would counteract false signals.
Mr Seekoe said that human capability was to be developed. There had to be a balance of how this was achieved. There was a shared vision with the
Ms Mocumi said that many learners at former Model C schools had come from the rural areas. Rural schools were challenged physically and in terms of human resources. She asked what the Department was doing. She thought that “far away” was a relative term and asked for a more accurate definition so she would know how close to the dishes a microwave oven could safely be used. Head hunting for students with disabilities would be a challenge. The environment was a problem for such persons who had no intellectual problems. They could not cope at schools because of the environment.
The Chairperson said that department officials always had the same story regarding human capital development. Apartheid was always blamed. It was an unconvincing argument. He asked what had been done in the last fifteen years. A picture, which Mr Fanaroff had shown of black female students from the Durban University of Technology at work on the Meerkat site, was an example of window dressing. The DST had a duty to ensure equal opportunities. Of 23 students, nineteen were white, three were blacks from other African states and only one was a South African black. There were still many examples of racist acts. He had once submitted a scientific paper, which mysteriously got lost. Parliament was accountable.
Ms Dunjwa said that it was often the case that the evils of a system could only be seen from the outside. Sports bodies were holding development clinics to identify talent; once spotted they were placed in an environment which was conducive to developing their skills. She asked why the DST could not adopt a similar approach. Perhaps a pilot programme could be launched in two provinces. Science and technology remained the domain of the few. Deliberate exclusion was being practised. The DST should work with the Department of Basic Education to produce black scientists.
Ms Mocumi asked if there was any interaction with teachers. She asked how many of the teachers were from rural areas. The
Mr Mjwara said that they had engaged with the Department of Higher Education on a teacher-training programme. The DST could not do this alone. He agreed that there should be a development pipeline of children who would eventually be the SKA scientists. They would work on the headhunting option.
Mr Fanaroff said that there was an argument over the distance at which microwave ovens could cause interference. Factors involved where the nature of the walls of the structure which contained the oven, its condition and power output. He thought that a couple of kilometres would be a safe distance.
The Chairperson said that any such programme should not just be for rural children in the
Mr Mjwara said that the DST had adopted eighteen Dinaledi schools. There was a pilot programme to develop a broadband infrastructure. Teachers were part of the discussion. The programme was active in
Ms Shinn asked what the developments were with the disciplinary hearing involving Prof Phil Charles. She asked if these developments were being communicated to the Committee in an open and frank manner. At least the charge and heads of argument should be made known.
The Chairperson said that the Committee should address the matter raised. It was, however, not the appropriate occasion.
Ms Shinn said that it was on the agenda circulated to the Members.
The Chairperson said that the developments referred to on the agenda were solely regarding SKA. The issue of Prof Charles was a different matter. The matter was being dealt with at the National Research Foundation (NRF). The Committee could discuss the issue when that body had made its report. The disciplinary process should first be exhausted. The Committee could not intervene in every dispute between employer and employee.
The Chairperson said that a joint workshop should be held involving both Departments of Education. This would be a brainstorming session.
Mr Mjwara said that the target was set by the NRF. They could not attain it.
The Chairperson said that there should be outcomes.
Mr Mjwara replied that this would be shown at the workshop.
Mr Fanaroff said that the workshop should discuss the situation with the high and primary schools at Carnarvon and Williston. In all these cases the schools had been merged. They had previously been Model C schools. There were no other schools in the area.
The Chairperson said that the engagement had been satisfactory. The Committee would accept the invitation of attending workshops at the SKA offices in Pinelands and to address human capacity development. He had heard disturbing stories about satellite launches and needed to engage with the DST before the Committee embarked on an oversight visit. Private business was involved. The Department of Finance should be involved. The Departments should meet and then report to the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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