World Largest Telescope bringing technological revolution to Africa
Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom
Ambassador Bheki Langa
In February, the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Derek Hanekom, led a South African delegation to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to sensitize and strengthen scientific and technology relations, in the field of radio astronomy, between South Africa and China. Deputy Minister Hanekom and South African Ambassador to the PRC, Dr. Bheki Langa, hosted a presentation in Beijing on South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope project, what would be the world largest telescope worth billions of US dollars.
Amidst all the negative publicity and the myths around Africa being a dark continent, South Africa took a leading role on an African bid to host the SKA project. It was proven to the world that South Africa can host such an enormous undertaking, as was illustrated by our hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Although the World Cup was only concentrated in South Africa, the hosting of the world’s largest telescope will be different. Besides the main satellite dishes being located in South Africa, the SKA project will involve reconfiguring and linking satellites in 8 African countries.
The presentation was attended by a large cross-section of the African Diplomatic Corps in Beijing, key Chinese academics, businesspeople, as well as journalists and practitioners in the field of astrophysics. Deputy Minister Hanekom was joined at the presentation by Dr. Bernard Fanaroff, the Director of the South African SKA project, who gave an in-depth description of the technical and scientific aspects of the bid proposal. In addition, he also highlighted the potential business and investment opportunities, for Chinese companies, that the SKA project would generate in South Africa and the 8 other African countries. In his message, the Deputy Minister underscored the advantage of the South African bid when he stated that “Representing an unparalleled opportunity to leap forward in mankind’s understating of science and astronomy, South Africa’s Karoo Radio Astronomy Reserve offers a perfect location for such an undertaking.”
The audience became animated, when the Deputy Minister highlighted that the successful South African designed and built MeerKAT was one of the precursors for the global SKA, and that South Africa was working with other African governments to host the largest radio telescope in Africa.
The successful SKA presentation was preceded by various meetings that the Deputy Minister held with the Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology, representatives from Chinese enterprises, and the Chinese astronomy community. Deputy Minister Hanekom also found some time to visit the optical telescope site in Hebei Province to learn more about the Large-Area-Multi-Object-Spectroscopic-Telescope (LAMOST), in the context of strengthening scientific and technological ties between South Africa and China.
SA Embassy Beijing