Notes to Editors on the MeerKAT regional economic impact

The selection of the SKA site is that good in that it attracts international investors.

The location of the MeerKAT, which will form the core of the bigger SKA telescope, has been carefully chosen to host a radio astronomy instrument for its attractiveness as an excellent radio frequency protected zone and the site continues to attract international collaborations. The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (HERA) and its predecessor, the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Re-ionisation (PAPER) are excellent examples. The hosting of these instruments brings numerous economic benefits to the adjacent communities. Since activities of the SKA project started in the Northern Cape, SKA SA has made a number of positive impacts to the lives of the people of Carnarvon, Williston, Van Wyksvlei, Brandvlei, Vosburg, Loxton, Fraserburg and Calvinia.

The construction of the KAT-7, MeerKAT, the HERA and PAPER has created a total number of 7284 direct and indirect jobs.

To date, R136 million has been spent at local suppliers for the construction of the above-mentioned projects.

The majority of the workers in these projects come from the neighbouring communities. Construction materials for the HERA telescope are sourced and fabricated from within South Africa – predominantly from the Carnarvon area. Because the bulk materials of construction are light industry materials such as wood and PVC pipe, local businesses, which don’t necessarily have a high technology customer base, are able to participate in this project. To date an amount of R5 million has been spent on material soured from local suppliers for the building of this international instrument.

Local industry and institutions with appropriate existing technical expertise and interest were invited to participate in the SKA Pre-Construction Design Phase, and an amount of R55 million was awarded to 14 SMME’s via the SKA SA Financial Assistance Programme to develop skills and expertise in advanced technologies. A total of R1 million has been spent on training and development of people participating in these programmes. In summary:

  • 8 students completed their skills course and 7 of them are permanently employed at the SKA;
  • 4 students who studied IT in Kimberley through a SKA SA bursary are employed as IT technicians;
  • 2 students from the SKA SA training programme are employed as optic fibre technician assistants;
  • 1 student qualified as a motor mechanic and is now employed as a mechanic assistant;
  • 2 students are employed as instrument control technicians;
  • 1 fitting and turning student is employed as technician assistant; and
  • 1 electrician who is due to complete a trade test is employed as a technician.

A total of 25 students are currently doing their work based experiential learning at the SKA and will complete trade tests in 2019. Employment opportunities await these students at the SKA SA.

Overall the localisation of the R3,2 billion MeerKAT and KAT-7 projects stands at 75%.

Localization here refers to the entire project, not just that part of it where investment is directly into the Northern Cape. This investment involved employment of SARAO (SKA-SA) engineers and scientists to drive the project, university based chairs in radio astronomy, in other words human capital investment. It involved also local manufacturing companies to make the dish panels, the reflector, the yoke and many other high spec parts. It involved electromagnetics and electronic companies and it involved data companies.

The technical training programme has been going since 2011, with the aim of recruiting the youth from the surrounding towns to train them in order to build capacity for the maintenance of the telescope.

The training centre will create a pool of artisans and semi-skilled workers in Carnarvon, and in other nearby towns. Through upgrading an existing building, SKA SA has established a temporary Technical Training Centre located at the SKA SA Karoo Support Base in Klerefontein, 17km outside of Carnarvon. The Klerefontein farm belongs to the Department of Agriculture who has a research station on site. The training centre is a temporary centre which will later be moved to the site of the proposed SKA Exploratorium. The training centre started operating in May 2017 with four students supported with bursaries from the SKA SA.

The training centre consists of a technical training workshop, and a fully-furnished and equipped pre-fabricated classroom, supporting the following trades:

  • Boilermaking: students are trained with the skills of welding and fitting, installation and repairing steel fabrications on bridges, blast furnaces, mining equipment, boilers on ships and the designing and construction of steam plants;
  • Electrical: training of electrical technicians;
  • Fitting and Turning: this skill involves the manufacture, construction, assembling and fitting of components for machinery as well as maintenance and repair of many different machines;

Students trained in the centre will be equipped with various skills that will make them employable in any engineering environment. The centre will be accredited by the Quality Council of Trades and Occupations (QCTO), and the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related SETA (MERSETA).

The SKA Information Centre will use the science of the SKA and Astronomy in general to attract visitors to Carnarvon, thereby boosting tourism in the area.

The communities of Van Wyksvlei, Vosburg, Williston, Brandvlei and Carnarvon, which are on the periphery of the SKA will benefit from this project through programmes such as enterprise development, career development, education and outreach, and other career and enterprise opportunities as a result of increased tourism activity in the area.

The DST is collaborating with the National Department of Tourism (NDT), the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) and the Kareeberg Municipality to establish the SKA Exploratorium in Carnarvon – which is envisaged to become a multi-purpose facility housing a Science Visitor Centre, SKA Information Centre, conferencing facilities, accommodation, etc. – in order to take advantage of the expected surge in science tourism as a result of the development of the MeerKAT and SKA projects. The SKA SA have in the meantime set up a temporary SKA Information Centre which will later be moved to this facility.

The SKA SA through its HCD programme made a strategic decision to invest in the education of the youths in the area through a schools programme whereby a maths and science teacher was employed, and introducing other support programmes such as Professional Teacher Development, ICT Infrastructure and e-learning programmes and Science Technology and Mathematics (STEM) programmes such as robotics and participation in Olympiads and competitions.

The SKA project is a scientific project that requires a range of scientific and technical expertise. Such skills can only be developed from a cohort of learners who are studying maths and science. Prior to the commencement of the SKA project, schools in the area did not offer these critical skills, however, the SKA introduced a school’s programme to develop and improve the teaching and learning of the subjects.

To date 15 students are beneficiaries of that programme, having passed matric with University entrance with passes in maths and science.  Those students are currently studying science and teaching related courses in various University using SKA bursaries.

Currently learners from the surrounding towns are accommodated at the hostel in Carnarvon High School to study maths and science and the SKA SA is hopeful that we are on the right path of producing local scientists and technicians will take ownership of the SKA project. Other programmes which are aimed at improving the standard of teaching and learning in schools include:

  • School Management Development Project: This programme aims to work with the school management team to ensure a more effective organisational and curriculum management, to support teaching and learning at each school.
  • Numeracy and Literacy Development Project: This is aimed at developing and implementing a customised programme for educators, to assist them in their delivery of the National Curriculum Statement, in Mathematics, English and Natural Science.
  • Early Childhood Development Project: This programme aims to develop reading and comprehension skills to the primary school learners. It was established by one of the educators after administering and assessment that only 18% of learners in grades R to 3 at Carnarvon Primary School can read. This programme will be rolled out to all the primary schools to ensure that learners can read with understanding when they arrive at the secondary school.
  • Schools Infrastructure Grants: The aim of this project is to assist the schools to develop the necessary infrastructure that will support effective teaching and learning. Carnarvon High School was the first recipient of this grant with an amount of R350,000 awarded towards the school infrastructure development and operations. The other schools are expected to apply for this grant from this year on.
  • Teacher Appointments: The SKA SA appointed 2 new science teachers and another 2 positions have been advertised.

Youngsters living in towns close to the SKA site are benefitting from training opportunities that have come with the project. Since 2011, 72 young people in the Northern Cape have been awarded bursaries aimed at equipping them with the professional skills that will make it possible for them to work for SKA SA and in the engineering industry at large. Of these:

Carnarvon – 51

Loxton – 1

Van Wyksvlei – 6

Williston – 10

Victoria West – 2

De Aar – 1

Kimberley – 1

SKA SA has undertaken to ensure access to ‘radio astronomy friendly’ telecommunication services.

The Karoo region has a scarcity of access to telecommunication services. However, the promulgation of regulation and declarations to protect the SKA may results in some restrictions of existing services in the area. The deployment of these services is being facilitated through the following SKA SA led programmes:

  • Satellite Connectivity: a contract was entered into with VOX Telecom to provide subsidised broadband satellite services to farms and communities within the protected Astronomy Advantage Areas. SKA SA purchases the satellite equipment, with the end user being responsible for the ongoing, significantly reduced operational cost that is affordable to the local communities.
  • Mobile Communication: a contract was entered into with Altech that will provide wide area mobile communication network that is accessible to local communities, municipal services (including emergency, disaster relief and police) and rural safety networks.
  • Migration to ‘radio astronomy friendly’ services: SKA SA has engaged successfully with the broadcasting community on the migration to digital television. This resulted in a policy statement to the effect that satellite broadcasting is subsidised in areas around the SKA, whilst terrestrial broadcasting would, through engagement with ICASA and the broadcasting sector, be significantly reduced (and possibly be eliminated in areas surrounding the SKA). A number of set-top boxes have been deployed in the area.

SARAO has been working closely with the municipal officials to integrate SKA into the Spatial Development Plans and Integrated Development Plans.

This complements our existing relationship and plans with the Northern Cape Local Government and Pixley Ka Seme District Municipality. We have managed to do the same with the Karoo Hoogland Municipality.

 

A number of impact assessment studies have been conducted on the SKA site since 2006.

Given that the SKA radio telescope is a Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP 16) covering a large area, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) decided in consultation with the DST that a SEA would be the most appropriate environmental assessment tool for the SKA.

The first Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study which focused on a 5km radius around the proposed KAT-7 radio telescope site was conducted in 2006 and a Record of Decision (RoD) was issued in October 2007. The second EIA study was undertaken in 2008, after the acquisition of the Meys Dam and Losberg Farms, which constitute the core site of MeerKAT radio telescope. This study was undertaken to assess the impact of the MeerKAT – A RoD for this study was issued in July 2009.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the SKA Phase 1 was conducted in 2017 and an Integrated Environmental Management Plan (IEMP) is in the final stages of approval by Cabinet following various stages of public input.

The IEMP provides recommendations on the way in which the SKA radio telescope will be constructed and operated within the environment and the measures that will be taken to mitigate the environmental impact by the SKA. The IEMP is a living document that will be adapted every five years according to the changing requirements of the region itself and its users. The IEMP will include a monitoring and auditing programme that will be reassessed periodically to allow for an adaptive and dynamic environmental monitoring framework.

The CSIR undertook an extensive stakeholder engagement process within the study area of the SKA SEA. The SEA enabled stakeholders to provide inputs into the environmental and socio-economic assessment of the potential impacts and benefits of the SKA project. A Website was established (http://www.skaphase1.csir.co.za/) which enabled stakeholders to comment or ask questions on the SEA process. All documentation produced was also published on this Website. A special Advisory Committee (SAC) was established to provide inputs into the SEA process and review the Integrated Management Plan. This SAC included government departments, the CSIR, SARAO (SKA SA), the Civil Aviation Authority, the Chamber of Mines and ICASA.

One of the recommendation that emerged from the IEMP was to conduct a Heritage Study of the area and Digsby Wells was appointed to do so. This study is complete and the first draft of the Heritage Management Plan will be released soon. The Ecology Study for SKA Phase 1 was also conducted by SAEON for the Core and the Spiral Arms. This study was concluded and the report and recommendations to NRF|SARAO is in the process of being finalised.

To mitigate the impact of SKA land acquisition, SARAO partnered with the Williston Vleiskoperasie (WVK) to establish a feedlot that is linked to the abattoir.

The total investment required for the feedlot was R4 million and SARAO contributed 60% of the cost. The proposed feedlot will have a targeted head of over 2000 lambs and will generate enough income to be sustainable.

At full operational capacity the feedlot will create 4 to 6 permanent jobs. In addition, the directors of WVK have created a scheme to integrate registered emerging farmers as full members of the co-op with voting rights and benefit sharing. The emerging farmers will also receive additional support through skills transfers on animal husbandry to ensure improved quality of lamb and viability of their operations.

Contact

Lorenzo Raynard
SKA SA Head: Communication and Stakeholder Relations
Email: lraynard@ska.ac.za
Mobile: +27 (0)71 454 0658