Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa: Remarks during visit to Square Kilometre Array

Address by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of his visit to the site of the Square Kilometre Array Carnarvon, Northern Cape

Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor,

Cabinet Colleagues and Deputy Ministers,

Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms Sylvia Lucas,

Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology of Botswana, Mr Nonofo Molefhi,

Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls-General,

Ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to be with you at the site of the Square Kilometre Array. For me, this project has long been a source of interest and fascination. I would like to commend Minister Pandor and her predecessors, Minister Derek Hanekom and Mosibudi Mangena, for having championed this project with such enthusiasm and determination.

I would also like to thank Dr Bernie Fanaroff for the exceptional contribution he has made as the SKA South Africa project director. I wish his successor, Dr Rob Adam, well in taking forward this critical work.

The Square Kilometre Array project is a truly global undertaking.

While the first phase of the SKA will be situated in South Africa and Australia, there are currently 11 countries that participate as members of the SKA Organisation. Around 100 organisations from about 20 countries have been participating in the design and development of the SKA.

It is particularly significant that eight other African countries will be involved in hosting the second phase of the project. This promises to establish Africa as a hub for expanding scientific inquiry.

The SKA project, which is aligned with the African Union’s 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, will help drive human capital development on the continent.

It will contribute to Africa’s efforts to build innovation-led, knowledge-based economies. These efforts seek to harness science, technology and innovation to advance the continent’s developmental goals.

The SKA is unprecedented.

It is a global science and engineering project to build the world’s largest radio telescope.

The SKA will collect and process vast amounts of data. It will require and encourage significant advances in high-performance computing. Producing the thousands of dishes required for the SKA will demand an entirely new way of building highly sophisticated and sensitive scientific instruments.

It is anticipated that this will lead to new innovations in manufacturing and construction. In appreciating the broader benefits of this project to South Africa, government has identified the construction of the SKA as a strategic infrastructure project overseen by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee.

The SKA forms part of efforts to transform South Africa’s economy through human capital development, innovation, value addition, industrialisation and entrepreneurship.

It will create jobs not only during the next decade or so of construction, but also for the next 50 years of operation and maintenance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Science and technology can do much in the fight against poverty, unemployment and inequality. The National Development Plan highlights the vital role played by science, technology and innovation in national development and equitable growth.

Throughout human history, technological progress has fuelled economic and social development. From agriculture to commerce, from health care to communications, from manufacturing to education, technology has transformed the human experience.

In this respect, the SKA project is both a product and an enabler of technological progress. The SKA would not have been conceivable without the scientific advances made in recent decades. At the same time, it also lays the foundation for further advances.

It will both expand our knowledge and develop the human capital we need to become more innovative. The 699 students and postdoctoral fellows that have been supported through the SKA South Africa bursary and fellowship programme are at the forefront of this effort.

This project is developing technical and artisan skills while producing a new cohort of young scientists. Scientists are not born. They are made. They are the products of a society that values knowledge, promotes learning and rewards innovation.

They are products of a society that reads, of schools that work and parents that are engaged in the intellectual development of their children. We need universities that have the academic capacity and financial resources to conduct ground-breaking research.

We need companies that are prepared to dedicate resources to research and development, understanding that sustained profitability depends on innovative products and evolving ways of working.

We need schools that have libraries. We need schools that have capable and enthusiastic teachers of maths, science and language. We need to acknowledge that the scientists of tomorrow begin their development even before they are born.

The provision of quality antenatal care to pregnant women is just as important to scientific progress as advanced maths classes are. Adequate nutrition and access to health care in the first thousand days of life are just as important as funding for post-doctoral programmes.

Scientists are the product of a society that invests in its children and that cares for its youth.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Square Kilometre Array will be a revolutionary new radio telescope. It will be a highly flexible instrument designed to address fundamental questions in astrophysics, fundamental physics, cosmology, particle astrophysics and astrobiology.

Through the SKA we will be able to probe the cosmic Dark Ages and previously unexplored parts of the distant universe.

We will use it to search for planets and black holes, and examine galaxy evolution, cosmology and dark energy, in search of answers to fundamental questions about our origins and how the universe works.

While the SKA will gaze at the sky, it remains deeply embedded in our soil and close to the lives of ordinary South Africans.

We commend, encourage and support partnerships between the SKA Project Office and the private sector that are transforming the lives of our communities in the Northern Cape.

We are witnesses to human capital development through a bursary programme for learners in the surrounding areas of Williston, Brandvlei, Van Wyksvlei and Carnarvon.

We welcome the initiative to upgrade the school hostel in Carnarvon, the support provided to emerging entrepreneurs, and the partnership between the SKA SA Project Office, Siyafunda, Cisco and Intel to establish a community knowledge centre for the people living in the area.

To remind us of the integral link between science and culture, I would encourage you to visit the Shared Sky art exhibition at the National Gallery in Cape Town. This exhibition brings together the work of indigenous South African and Australian artists with ancient cultural connections to the two sites where the SKA will be located.

The idea of a sky shared by all humanity is integral to the international science and engineering collaboration that is the SKA project. Science knows no borders. Knowledge is the preserve of no nation.

Let us work together to expand what we know and to apply what we discover to improve the condition of all life on this planet.

Let us work together to explore the history of our universe and, in doing so, secure our common future.

I thank you!