Programme Director;

 

Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana's Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation;

 

Dr Itah Kandji Murangi, Namibia's Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation;

 

Mr Ngaka Ngaka, Botswana's Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology;

 

Prof. Collette Suda, Principal Secretary in Kenya's State Department for University Education;

 

Ms Leda Hugo, Mozambique's Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Higher and Technical Education;

 

Ambassadors of the African SKA partner countries;

 

Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General of the African SKA partner countries;

 

Dr Rob Adam, Project Director of the SKA Africa;

 

Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Former Director and Special Advisor to the Director, SKA SA Project;

 

Distinguished Guests;

 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

I am very pleased to welcome you all to our country, our beautiful City of Cape Town and the 5th Annual SKA/AVN African Ministerial Forum meeting.

 

As member states of the African Union we are guided by the AU Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), which places science, technology and innovation at the epicentre of Africa's socio-economic development and growth. The expectation is that the implementation of STISA-2024 will take place at several levels. At national level, member states are expected to incorporate this strategy into their national development plans. At regional level, regional economic communities, research institutions, networks and partners are expected to leverage the strategy in designing and coordinating initiatives.

 

The SKA/AVN project is a clear demonstration that, as member states of the AU, we can work together and coordinate science, technology and innovation activities to benefit our people.

 

For many years our continent has been lagging behind in the development of science and technology and this has contributed to the developmental challenges that many of our countries are facing. For this reason, the strategy I have referred above is firmly anchored to six distinct priority areas that contribute to the achievement of the AU Vision:  The eradication of hunger and achieving food security; the prevention and control of diseases; communication (physical and intellectual mobility); the protection of space; living together and building society; and wealth creation.

 

As leaders responsible for science and technology in our respective countries, we have a huge responsibility to ensure that science and technology is placed at the core of implementing the six priorities outlined above. This means that all of us must commit to ensuring that science and technology initiatives in Africa are successful.

 

In July, some of you were able to join us when we launched the precursor to the Square Kilometre Array in the form of the 64-dish MeerKAT radio telescope in the Northern Cape.  The MeerKAT represents a quantum leap for innovation and science.

 

For the next few years, the MeerKAT is going to be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. It is a precursor to the SKA, which will be the most powerful radio telescope ever built. The power of the fully completed SKA will dwarf all telescopes that have come before, and its image resolution will exceed the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, we are fully aware that initiatives of this magnitude require a significant amount of funding. The initial funding, which was provided through the African Renaissance Fund, provided by our Department of International Relations and Cooperation, helped us to make significant inroads in making the AVN project a reality.

 

In this regard, we note with pride that Ghana recently became the first of the eight African SKA partner countries to complete the conversion of a redundant communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope.  The telescope was launched by the President of Ghana in Kuntunse on 24 August 2017.

 

It is also pleasing to note that, since its launch, the Kuntunse Radio Telescope has made its First Light observations – a testament to the hard work of the teams in South Africa and Ghana, with the support of their European colleagues, and the vision of the African Very Long Baseline Line Interferometry (VLBI) Network project, which is strengthening Africa's leading role in the international SKA project.

 

Furthermore, the AVN programme has enabled us to achieve the following:

  • In Botswana and Mozambique, we have rolled out computers loaded with software used in radio astronomy and two-dish interferometers to pilot at universities for teaching and training purposes.
  • We have been able to provide assistance to university astronomy programmes in partner countries through workshops and support for curricula.
  • Lastly, we have initiated an AVN Human Capacity Development Programme, which has supplemented the SKA Human Capacity Development Programme to increase the number of recipients and training opportunities from the SKA/AVN partner countries. So far, 136 recipients, mainly from African SKA partner countries, have benefited from this initiative, many returning home to initiate radio astronomy programmes at their home universities.

 

With the availability of further funding, the satellite conversion and AVN initiatives we have seen in Ghana can also be rolled out in other partner countries.

 

During the Kuntunse launch, the ministers and deputy ministers representing our SKA African partner countries concluded their Fourth Ministerial Meeting with the signing of a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in radio astronomy.  The MOU gave further impetus to our commitment to ensuring this project becomes a reality.

 

The consolidation of Africa's collective effort is a demonstration that the continent is not turning its back on the application of science, technology and innovation in solving our developmental challenges.

 

As Africans, we can no longer stand by and watch as other continents reap the rewards of scientific advancement. The AVN project seeks to establish a network of radio telescopes in the African SKA partner countries that would be linked to a global network, thereby enabling science in Africa from which all but South Africa are currently excluded. This means that our continent will form part of a network of scientific instruments that are devoted to the advancement of human progress.

 

As we are gathered here today, we need to respond to the question: what is it that we need to do as Africans to ensure that we achieve the priorities outlined in the AU Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa? More specifically, we need to respond to the question: what is it that we can do materially, working together as partners, to support the AVN project? As South Africa, we will continue to give our full support to this project and we are currently exploring ways in which we can continue to fund the AVN project when the existing allocation is exhausted in March 2019.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, the world is at the cusp of a major technological shift in which big data will play a huge role. Radio astronomy generates large quantities of data, and by implementing this programme in all our partner countries, we will be able to develop advanced computing infrastructure, training and skills development to process the data and to support broad research applications. This will place our countries firmly at the centre of the next industrial revolution and the realisation of immeasurable economic benefits. Moreover, the AVN project will assist in preparing our countries to host the SKA remote stations, which will be implemented in phase 2 of the SKA project.

 

Again, we need to ask ourselves the question: what material investments are we, as partner countries, willing to make to support the AVN project?

 

While scientific endeavours may appear wasteful and their value doubtful in the short term, it is important to remember the words of the American cosmologist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who said:  "Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival. Not only does that get people interested in sciences and all the related fields, [but] it transforms the culture into one that values science and technology, and that's the culture that innovates. And in the 21st century, innovations in science and technology are the foundations of tomorrow's economy."

 

I thank you.