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SKA telescope: Government’s inability to keep its promises spoils yet another project that could have helped nation building

The FF Plus shares in fellow South Africans’ excitement about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope that was recently inaugurated by Deputy President David Mabuza, but once again the ANC government has spoilt a project that we should have been proud of as there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the project and it has caused great dissatisfaction among the local communities.

It seems as if the promises made to the surrounding communities were not kept and the massive project has a direct influence on their community life, economy and the environment. Various people from different parts of the Carnarvon and Williston communities have informed the FF Plus of their grievances and have complained that the government does not seem to take them seriously.

Scope of the project:

The land that has been acquired, or that will still be acquired, for the project amounts to 130 000 hectares in total. In addition, servitudes will also be registered on farms for every satellite dish.

Unfortunately, farmers only realised this after the public participation process, but the servitudes will not only apply to the satellite dish and an access route to it, but also to about one square kilometre (100 hectares) around the satellite dish, which will be cleared of all vegetation.

Impact on the environment:

Farmers allege that many of the water distributing points for very large regions are situated in these square kilometre areas. Apparently, in some places the carcasses of wild animals can be found lying about as there was no water available for the animals to drink.

Environmental experts also do not know whether environmental studies were conducted to determine if there are scarce plant species growing in these areas.

At first glance, it seems ironic that a natural sciences project is being executed without them having conducted a thorough environmental impact study first.

Economic impact:

The stakeholders that the FF Plus spoke to all agree that the land for the project was acquired on fair terms and that landowners where fairly compensated for it.

One gets the impression that local contractors and free labourers are benefiting from the building of the infrastructure. So, during the construction phase there is an influx of money and the problem of unemployment is addressed.

The hospitality sector in the region is surely benefiting from the project. There seems to be a steady stream of professional visitors and people who are interested in the project.

Apart from the hospitality sector where the positive impact will most likely be sustainable, it is doubtful whether that will be the case with the other income streams. One gets the impression that the project will only require a small local team, while experts in other centres will do the rest of the work for the project.

The use of 130 000 hectares of land (or even more) for the project can be considered as follows: conservatively speaking, a livestock farmer needs about eight hectares per ewe. That means that more than 16 000 ewes will have to be taken out of production. It comes down to an annual loss of 20 000 animals in terms of lam production or a financial loss of approximately R45 million per year – and that is only for livestock farming.

To calculate the multiplying factor of this, one must keep in mind that a large percentage of the animals are slaughtered and processed in the various towns before the products leave the district. The buying and selling of consumer goods and farming supplies will obviously also suffer, while schools, churches and other community institutions will be affected as well.

Conclusion

The initial excitement has cooled to what can only be described as feelings that range from wary optimism to open hostility. It is highly unlikely that the aim with the project was to have a detrimental effect on these small and economically vulnerable communities. One does, however, get the feeling that the project will have some unforeseen, albeit unintended, negative consequences.

The former FF Plus leader, Dr Pieter Mulder, was assured by the minister at the time, Ms Naledi Pandor, that communities will not be negatively affected by the project. However, it no longer seems like keeping that promise is a priority.

Contact details: 074 166 5540

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