I am a recently retired engineer, formerly of a local scientific research and development (R&D) institution. I enjoyed a career there in electrical and electronic engineering and physics spanning some 43 years, and remain very interested in and concerned about South African science and technology policy.
I have noticed that there has developed in the country over the past few years an enthusiasm for the so-called ‘Square Kilometre Array’ (SKA). I am fully aware of all the expected advantages for South Africa of this project, both during the construction phase, as well as during operation. I am not convinced, however, that this project represents the best use of our scarce government science and technology resources. There are other facilities that could be established in South Africa, also with plentiful international financial and technical assistance, which would definitely have far greater benefits and impact for the country, and, indeed, for the sub- continent, than a giant, geographically distributed radio telescope.
I think in particular in this regard of the so-called ‘synchrotron light source’. (For more information on this, see: www.lightsources.org.)
I feel that questions should be asked in Parliament of the Minister of Science and Technology as to South Africa’s financial commitment to the SKA, both with respect to money already spent, as well as anticipated future spending, and why it was decided to use the South African taxpayer’s money on a project which promises comparatively little long-lasting knowledge-generation benefits to South Africa, being directed as it is at gathering data about the furthest reaches of distant outer space, and not at new, modern, multidisciplinary facilities aimed at the far more pressing scientific and medical research challenges facing us on earth, in particular here in Southern Africa.
Government R&D spending on facilities addressing such esoteric fields of knowledge as ‘deep’ space is a luxury we South Africans can scarcely afford.