SKA: SA doesn't need pity vote

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Science and technology minister Naledi Pandor has refused to return insults to Australia regarding the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and the better host site.

SA is bidding against Australia to host the mega telescope, which will be the world's largest. According to Australian media, Australian science minister Chris Evans said it is an “aid” mindset that will help the African bid for the telescope. He added that it is sympathy for Africa and not other factors that act as an impediment to a successful Australian bid.

“To be frank, the thing that works against us most is the sympathy for doing more in Africa - the European view that says we ought to be doing more development in Africa. At a political level that's quite strong and is one of the things we have to confront,” the senator was quoted as saying.

SA science and technology department spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele says the minister always resisted commenting on these statements by Evans, but if these quotes are true then they reflect an inadequate understanding of Africa, according to the minister.

She adds that analysts have confirmed that Africa is a vibrant economic region so hosting the SKA here will build on these strengths, while allowing scientists from around the world access to an excellent site and technologies, including the MeerKAT precursor telescope. “Our bid was sound and we won't insult anyone in an attempt to sway the decision-makers.”

Evans was also quoted as saying Australia will continue to “prosecute our case” as the best location for the SKA. He added that he had phoned ministers and visited China and Italy to “bang on doors and reinforce the message”.

Leaked recommendation

SA was the host site recommended for the SKA by the SKA Site Advisory Committee, according to documents leaked to international media.

The recommendation was supposed to remain confidential and the board's final judgement is to be announced on 4 April, if the decision is clear-cut, but media reports say SA was named the recommended site.

The reports say the committee found the SA-led African bid to be stronger due to lower costs and a higher altitude. The final decision rests with a vote of the member countries - China, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands. It is possible that Germany and Canada may join the member countries.

“The SKA project will drive technology development in antennas, fibre networks, signal processing, software and computing, and power. The design, construction and operation of the SKA have the potential to impact skills development, employment and economic growth in science, engineering and associated industries, not only in the host countries, but in all partner countries,” says the SKA Organisation.

It will consist of about 3 000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies that will be spread over a vast area of up to 3 000km. The African SKA site bid is led by SA's DST, and includes Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Mauritius, Kenya and Ghana.

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