Minister Nzimande on SKA site

by:Lusanda Tamesi                         

The exciting venture

The Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Dr. Blade Nzimande, and His Deputy Mr. Buti Manamela visited the site of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project last week, in the Karoo, Northern Cape, for the first time since being appointed Minister in 2019.SKA is a global project to build the world’s largest radio telescope, co-located in South Africa and Australia. It’s powerful enough to detect radio waves from objects millions or even billions of light-years away from Earth. The SKA focuses on addressing questions that can only be answered using a radio telescope where scientists will use it to help us understand how the Universe evolved, how stars and galaxies form and change, and what “dark matter” really is. 

The Minister was confounded as he got an overview of how much work has gone into the MeerKat since South Africa won the bid to co-host the global SKA project in 2012– funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO). South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire were chosen as SKA co-hosting locations for scientific and technical reasons. Furthermore whilst the Karoo will host the core of the high and mid-frequency dishes extending over the African continent, Australia’s Murchison Shire will host the low-frequency antennas.

This big venture allows training the country’s young scientists in data analytics and related skills, said Minister Nzimande. The Minister added that Covid-19 has shown us that “we are a country of science”, and that the challenge now is “to educate people about the impact of science and excite our young people, as South Africa is a country of many opportunities”.

One of many delegates who graced the site with a visit include ambassadors from Australia,Italy,Netherlands,Portugal,United Kingdom ,China &German with the Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr. Zamani Saul, Cllr Norman van Wyk: Kareeberg Local Municipality & Priscilla Appies, an instrument fitter at the SKA site to name a few. The Premier appreciated the investment made in the province and also encouraged the youth to take upon Astronomy related careers. “What we need to do as the project goes ahead is to optimise those benefits to the hosting communities. This is a landmark project and a massive investment in the Northern Cape, which also contributes to job creation in the tourism sector,” adds Dr. Saul.

“Had it not been for the SKA, I would not be where I am today,” said Priscilla as she enlightens the youth on how astrology and science-related careers could be a break-through.

Down memory lane


1991 Square Kilometre Array conceptualized

2006 Shortlisting of potential sites

2008-12 Design of telescope system and costs

2011 SKA organization incorporated

2012 Selection of the site

2013-15 Design and pre-construction

2016-19 Construction Phase 1

2018-23 Construction Phase 2

2020 Full science operations Phase 1

2024 Full science operations Phase 2

The timeline provided by

Interesting Facts

  • In 2013 all seven of the KAT-7 dishes were successfully fitted with “cold” radio receivers, which marks the successful completion of the telescope antennas.
  • The first astronomical image taken with the cold receivers was of the galaxy Centaurus A, whose intense radio emission is powered by a massive black hole in the center of the galaxy.
  • The January 2021 discovery by the MeerKAT telescope: two giant radio galaxies that were discovered are among the largest single objects in the universe – further demonstrating the technological advancement of the MeerKAT.
  • The project has a huge potential for local economic development and human capital development in the Northern Cape.
  • This project has made Africa & the African astronomy hub allow development to the continent and attract researchers from around the world. 

Today South African astronomy remains at the forefront of many initiatives and discoveries.

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