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The aim of this site is to share experiences and concerns of Karoo inhabitants due to the Square Kilometer Array project in South Africa. The beautiful Karoo and the life it sustains is under threat. If we do not act now it will be too late to protect this unique part of our planet. Construction of a "SKA phase 1" is already planned to commence in 2018, or perhaps even sooner.
Stakeholder engagement has been dissapointing as can be seen by a letter written by a concerend stakeholder to the Minister of The Department of Science and Technology. The Minister's reply has left the affected cummunities and their umbrella forum in a vacuum, and suspicious.
According to the CSIR Integrated Management Plan water requirements during peak construction of SKA phase 1 will be an astonishing 943 kilolitres per day. This is 10 to 20 times more than the average agricultural daily water requirement in the surrounding area, depending on the season, on comparable sized land. The Central Karoo is a semi-desert, and a fragile balance exists between the level of the water table and the sustainability of life, flora and fauna. The table below is found in the CSIR's final Integrated Management Plan, chapter two under point seven, "Water Use".
|Location/Activity||Maximum daily demand in kilolitres|
|SKA site complex||10|
|Road construction and road maintenance||120|
|Construction Dust Control||100|
Many South Africans have been keen and excited about the radio astronomy, Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project. SKA marketing strategies and the SKA website present a convincing and impressive picture of SKA South Africa. There is no need to argue the scientific merits of the project.
The "other side" of the project is less convincing. It is the SocioEconomic impact and the Ecocide which will affect communities and the environment due to SKA phase 1, and the later phase 2. Construction of phase 1 is planned to start soon. Later SKA phases 2 is planned to reach far into the African Continent. According to the Radio Quiet Zone Document, page 10, remote stations are proposed to be placed in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. The RQZ document goes on to state that these African countries have "basic law", implying that enforcing a RQZ or radio protected zones would be possible.
The current SKA site in the Karoo consists of two farms (Losberg and Meysdam) and covers 13,406 ha. Here pathfinder and precursor radio telescope dishes have been erected. The Kat-7 project, a test bed of seven dishes, was completed years ago. The MeerKAT project will eventually comprise of 64 dishes, a technology demonstrator for South Africa's bid to host the Square Kilometer Array, is under construction and will form part of SKA phase 1. MeerKat is still far form completion, and has suffered many delays. It has often been suggested that funding is the biggest challenge.
South Africa and Australia jointly won the bid in 2012 and are both official hosts, but South Africa will host the majority share. An International Site Advisory Committee decided which criteria determined the SKA host. The South African SKA foundation is currently negotiating and buying more land (about 118 000 ha / or + - 36 farms) around the initial site, to create a larger core area of about 130 000 ha.
SKA phase 1 does not only consist of the above mentioned core area, but also includes three long arm-like spiralling corridors. Along these corridors additional satellite dishes are to be constructed. These corridors are planned to run over "active farms". Servitudes on roads, power lines and pockets of land are planned. Construction along the spirals are expected to interupt farming activities over extended periods. Along these spirals restrictions will protect radio astronomy and affect farming activities for up to 11 km on either side of the spirals, totaling corridors of 22 km (or more in places) in width. These restrictions reduce or prohibit the generation of power via certain generators, wind chargers and solar panels. Electric fencing, spark plugs (petrol driven vehicles included),flying an aeroplane, constructing roads and houses, broadcasting radio signals, operating microwaves, arc welding and the use of certain machines will be prohibited or restricted. Even appliances like TV`s, decoders, stoves, fridges, washing machines, electric geysers, alarm systems, remote controls, laptops, printers, digital cameras, lathes, trucks and bulldozers or graders will be restricted. Cell phones are banned outright in the regulated zones. A SKA official, Mr Adrian Tiplady, confirmed that signals have been "modified" in the past, and will continue to be "modified" to protect radio astronomy. The scientific term of "modification" in practical terms results in the loss of mobile communication systems. Only radio frequencies below 100 Mhz, and above 25.5 Ghz will be tolerated. Therefore the use of mobile handhelds will become impossible.
A person who contravenes the restrictions will face a fine of up to R 1 000 000 (one million rand) or imprisonment, or both according to a warning issued by Government Gazette. Within South Africa one million Rand would represent a challenging amount for an average person. Currently an ordinary loaf of bread in South Africa cost from under R10 and may go up up to R15 depending on the type of bread, a litre of petrol sells for approximately R 13, while aviation fuel (Avgas) sells at just over R20 a litre.
The above mentioned core area and corridors (SKA phase 1) are situated in a semi-desert called the Karoo. The Karoo makes up most of the Northern Cape Province and this province covers 30 % of South Africa's total land surface. Here sheep farming upholds the economy. Agricultural land is therefore under discussion and the stability of 3 municipalities with 46 000 inhabitants is questioned. Karoo, Meat of Origin, a well-known organic lamb label with impressive export credentials, is proudly produced in the area. Arguably it is of the best meat in the world. SKA has already bought huge tracks of land in and around the intended core area, without waiting for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to first conclude an investigation and publish the its report. This report was published on 31 January 2017., and it clearly warns that the SKA phase 1 will impact negatively on the affected area and that SKA's current plans will cause the communities to disintegrate. The report (Integrated Environmental Management Plan for the South African mid-frequency array of SKA Phase 1) suggests that alternatives must be looked at to prevent disintegration of the affected communities. Comments from the public may be submitted by the 17 of March 2017. The CSIR may be contacted and comments submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, via post "PO Box 320, 7600, Stellenbosch, or via telephone nationally at 021 88 82429, or internationally +27 21 88 82429.
In the document published in 2005, "SKA Task Force on Regulatory Issues, November 2005", International experts recommend how to implement the SKA project. On page 7 is stated "...a radio-quiet zone (RQZ) is necessary..." and on page 8, "Typical sectors that may be affected would be communications (both regulation and communications infrastructure),land affairs, environmental affairs, civil aviation and mineral affairs. There may be further impact at the state or provincial level in terms of roads, distribution networks of electrical power and other public services." These experts do not mention human rights, ecocide or the social and economic impact. Recently a SKA official stated that the term "radio protected" would be more accurate than the term "radio silent". However, more information has been requested.
SKA phase 1 will be largely funded by the SKA International Partner States. An amount of Euro 650 million has been mentioned for the first phase. These financial contributors are the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, India and China, according to the SKA official website. The SKA Organisation is a private company incorporated and has its head office in the United Kingdom (The SKA Organisation, SKAO, is responsible for coordinating the global activities of the SKA project. This includes engineering, science, site evaluation, operations and public outreach. While the latter point, public outreach, has not occured at all.) In addition there are several non-member States which benefit by receiving research data, such as Universities and the Max Planck Institution in Germany. The USA has part of its HERA project on the South African SKA core site. Further non-member states include France, Japan, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. The "Save the Karoo" team has made concerted efforts to contact the Interantional member States but has not received reaction of note."
Radio frequency restrictions and aviation laws are obviously contradictory concepts. Almost all flights to and from Cape Town have always flown over the Northern Cape as Cape Town is geographically at the southern tip of Africa. Therefore the Karoo was traditionally not a radio quiet or radio protected area. Obviously the availability of radio frequencies are paramount to aviation safety with regard to radar, navigation and radio communications. These rights were stipulated in the Chicago Convention of 1944 and most nations are signatory to this agreement, including South Africa. Should flights to and from Cape Town be re-routed to protect astronomy within the Karoo? How much will this cost travellers? How would this affect the carbon footprint of air travel? SKA articles suggest that the Karoo is "beautifully radio quiet and ideal for radio astronomy". This is not so, with national and international flights routes going over the Central Karoo area and the Northern Cape. Besides most rural towns and even some farms have their own airstrips, indicating recreational aviation and emergencies services. Carnarvon was historically not radio quiet or radio protected...
The AGA Act no 21 of 2007, was drafted to allow for an Astronomically Advantaged Area (AAA) where legislation prohibits frequencies allowing cellphone signals. Admittedly cellphone communication vastly improved since 2007. By 2015 when SKA phase 1 was presented to the public, mobile technology had already changed the world. Smartphones are a way of life today. It is unthinkable to sacrifice the freedoms, safety, business opportunities and access to information afforded by mobile hand-held devices. Should cellphone signals be cut off due to legislation people affected by SKA phase 1 will be left with weather-sensitive satellite land-line connections and wifi within their homes. Many members of society, especially finacially weaker ones, will be deprived of their only means of communication. A "souped-up" walkie-talkie with a vastly limited sms function and without internet connection has been offered to stakeholders by SKA, but nobody is excited about this option. Cellphones remain the chosen and only practical means of communication for most in the affected area.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) commissioned several experts to perform a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) within the area affected by SKA phase 1. Research was collected on economic, social, environmental and heritage and cultural issues. This study ran throughout most of 2016 and the report was published on January 30th 2017.
The CSIR website stated in November 2016 that its board members were appointed by the Minister of the Department of Science and Technology from 2015 through 2018. These dates co-inside with the initial announcement of the land acquisition for SKA phase 1 and the intended start of construction for SKA phase 1. This has raised questions about a possible conflict of interests. Despite this concern the report and specialist studies clearly warn that the impact of the current SKA plan will disintegrate communities, hurt the local and national economies and at worse result in a destructive downward spiral for SKA and the local population due to public resistance.
The CSIR's Agricultural Economic Study has presented a very conservative view and calculated according to lamb prices in early 2016. The price paid for lamb has increased considerably since early 2016. About 15 000 to 16 000 lambs and 7000 adult sheep are annually marketed on the farms SKA intends for its core area of phase 1. Save The Karoo puts the annual loss at 20 to 30 million and this certainly will impact hard on the local communities. (The figure in the report is somewhat lower but this could be due to price fluctuations on the meat market over the last year). Abattoirs will be affected and the profitability of these companies will not be sustainable, as they would drop about 10% in slaughter volumes. One may consider that a minimum monthly wage of about R 3 500, is being debated in South Africa. This puts the loss of 20 to 30 million into perspective. Lamb and mutton is not the only source of income in this area. Stud farming, wool and feed-lots also generate capital.
Farm workers will not find new employment easily as unemployment figures are around 32 % in the area. Alternative job opportunities are not being created. There are no government incentive programs to attract new business opportunities to the area. In local towns many live on social Government grants. News reports within South Africa are predicting that funds for social grants are being depleted.
Abattoirs, fuel suppliers, agricultural co-operatives, hardware stores, supermarkets, banks, tradesmen, construction and engineering services will all lose customers. Suppliers of veterinarian products, solar power and pumps, irrigation and water systems, fencing and general farm equipment will drop sales. Remote monitoring equipment used to track stock, read water levels, ensure safety of people and animals and prevent stock theft will suffer a decline in sales. Meat agents, marketing-, transport- and packing companies, retailers, the hospitality industry and finally ordinary consumers will be affected nationally. The highly respected and famous brand, "Karoo, Meat of Origin", with export credentials will be dealt a great setback.
Reduced turnovers affect sales nationally in commodities, insurances, recreation, travel and assets investment. Fewer transactions result in a decline of sales tax each time money changes hands, and reduced income taxes. These "add-ons" show that a loss of 18 million rand in farming activity will translate to a decline in the South African GDP equivalent to R 263 million. It is highly unlikely that any scientific project could replace such amounts to the affected area or to the growing economy of South Africa. It is not fair to refer to the Karoo as a low-income, uninhabited and impoverished area, as sadly there are many poorer areas within South Africa despite higher population densities. The argument based on poverty in the Karoo has been used to justify taking agricultural land and using it for scientific purposes. Sadly this decision will cause much greater poverty in the Karoo. The economic report also makes it clear that the SKA project cannot compensate for these financial losses.
Towns and businesses might decline and shrink. Displacement of people may result. More and more employees may land on the street if a downward trend is started. Typically, financially weaker members of society might be disadvantaged the most. Local families who lost ownership of property under the previous regime have not recovered losses or enjoyed compensation to date. Now these communities face more disadvantages. The town called Van Wyksvlei suffered a blow when a weaponry testing site called Alkantpan bought out farms (85 000 ha) in the district in 1987. The town was greatly reduced and impoverished. This is an explicit example of what Karoo communities are exposed to once farms are forced out of production. The inhabitants in the Karoo are completely reliant on agriculture for their well being and survival. Alkantpan and SKA ground are very close together and this area cannot take another punch to its economy. Alkantpan brought Van Wyksvlei to its knees, how much more should these communities be deprived of?At Alkantpan, foreign clients benefit while locals suffer.
Laws within South Africa demand Capital gains taxes on property. Therefore once landowners are forced to sell ground they cannot replace land of a similar quality. These losses are not taken into account or compensated for by the land buy-out scheme benefiting the SKA project. Individuals suffer real losses.
Estimates as to how farming activities along the intended spiralling corridors will be economically affected due to the regulations and restrictions are tricky to calculate. Land management and land preservation without the use of machines and equipment might be impossible in the long run, and cause environmental damage. The inconveniences caused by the regulations and the absence of technological development associated with radio frequencies could in time deter younger generations from farming in the area. The remote monitoring equipment allowing modern and convenient farming practices might be prohibited, and pose safety threats. This will cause a substantial loss in income for these farms and all the dependants. Farms could be reduced to stock posts in due course. Stock posts are typically less productive, contribute to falling populations figures and reduced incomes. The migration patterns from rural to urban areas stress many big cities in South Africa already. Where unemployment, lack of accommodation, poor living conditions, increased crime, transport, health, sanitation and hygiene are mayor expenses to the national economy. Functioning agricultural and rural communities alleviate problems in cities and improve the population distribution of a nation. Agricultural communities feed those who live in cities, and it seems politicians and scientist forget the roll agriculture plays within a nations well-being and stability.
Economics, productivity, human resources and food security cannot be separated. Food security has been an issue in Southern Africa, especially after recent droughts. Currently 25 percent of South Africa's sheep are found in the Northern Cape, according to National livestock Statistics. Therefore this area contributes substantially to the national food basket and national revenue, despite that it is a semi-desert and has a relatively low population.
The Northern Cape is the fourth largest wool supplier in the country, and the industry is growing due to better wool prices and a weak Rand. Northern Cape wool producers do well nationally, and can boast a number of well-respected breeders. The game industry is growing steadily, with surprisingly high prices making news at annual animal auctions. The game and tourist industries are closely linked. The Karoo is a sought after by nature lovers seeking tranquillity, unspoiled open space and simply "getting away from it all". But, much more can be done to promote the Karoo as a "Great Escape" tourist destination. There are some very beautiful farms with corbelled houses, rock art, scenic walks and with great hospitality. People are know to be kind and helpful. Good accommodation and fine eateries with exceptional lamb on the menu makes it a fine place to visit and experience something completely different.
SKA has donated computers for educational purpose in Carnarvon. Some students received bursaries for further studies, and SKA employ a member of staff at the Carnarvon school. Some locals are employed to develop SKA infrastructure during construction, but this ends once construction is completed. SKA officials have proposed employing farm workers, who stand to lose their jobs, eradicating invasive trees in the area. However, farm workers are a very specialised workforce and might not want to chop down trees for a living. SKA may inform Save The Karoo about the benefits Williston, Van Wyksvlei and Brandvlei have received so these benefits may be included on this site. Certain handouts might instil a situation where dependency and expectations grow, whereas others may encourage own initiative. Donations which directly stimulate financial growth and alternative work opportunities in the area would be most effective.
The CSIR report mentions 9 points of advantages which SKA will bring to Carnarvon. These benefits seem to be aimed at uplifting Carnarvon's community rather than providing sustainable economic growth over the next half-a-century or more. The way forward is therefore unclear, considering that constructions may take several decades and that a fully operational SKA is expected to run for around 50 years. Phase 1 will soon displace people, but some of the promised facilities mentioned in the CSIR document are not in place. These benefits will just touch a few lives in comparison to the scale of phase 1. It is questioned whether much of the work force for future construction will be imported from far away, housed on site and treated in a on-site clinic, disadvantaging the local workforce further.
The CSIR include expert Studies such as Agriculture Soil Assessment, Alien Invasive Study, Aquatic Assessment, Avifauna Survey, Bat Survey, Ecology Assessment, and the Endangered Wildlife Trust survey.
The Karoo has a unique landscape and a sensitive ecosystem. Dry phases are common in the Karoo, but the area is quite drought resistant, meaning that the vegetation has relatively good nutritional value even during drought periods. The central Karoo has average annual rainfall of about 230 to 250 mm. After the rains it turns green very rapidly, providing excellent grazing and substantial ground cover. Hardy indigenous plants and animal species of enormous diversity have developed over millions of years and adapted to heat, cold, droughts and floods. Typically, erosion can occur after the thunderstorms, and it is important to retain top soil and not disturb the natural vegetation or surface areas. Large scale construction activities will remove and damage vegetation and top soil, potentially creating opportunities for soil erosion which may in time spread over vast areas. Rehabilitation of hardy vegetation requires diligent effort over an extended period of time, often several decades, as it is a semi-desert. The Karoo is not a desert.
Wild animals in the Karoo have adapted to farming conditions and live in synchronized relationship with farming stock. It is no longer possible for wild animals to migrate according to water availability as they did in former times before fences were introduced to the area. The wild animals use the drinking facilities available on farms. Many animal species are protected and endangered in the Karoo. Particular attention must be given to the riverine rabbit, birds of prey, in particular the Verreaux eagle, the blue crane, tortoises, steenbokkies, springbok, porcupines and the aardvark, to give just a few examples. It has been SKA policy to close water holes and drinking facilities on the two farms they have owned for years already, thus leaving no drinking facilities for animals in the wild. Should SKA expand and continue this practice it would amount to further mass destruction among these beautiful and rare species as they would simply dehydrate and die. The CSIR environmental report suggests that the animals in the wild will become accustomed to living with less and eventually no water....One has to wonders whose interests such experts are protecting.
On site construction for the Kat7 and MeerKat projects have shown that an enormous amount of infrastructure is required. On the core site are wide roads to transport satellite dishes, very large sheds, office blocks, on site housing facilities, and a large bunker-like construction to house a generating plant, several transformers, electronic equipment and computer facilities. along the spiralling corridors Wide roads will cut through active farms to allow for satellite dishes, each dish with a power station, all connected to each other and a central control and computer facility. It is hard to imagine that such ground may ever be re-rehabilitated or returned to its natural state. Each dish requires a large cleared terrain and access from all sides and dishes are linked by roads and power lines. One wonders what will happen once these structures are obsolete, outdated or should the project fail. Aerial pictures are available and clearly indicate damage to the natural environment on a large scale. Phase 2 would multiply the ecological damage as the density of dishes will be vastly increased, not only in the Karoo but also into Africa. Several thousand dishes have been mentioned to be constructed in the final plan.
According to the SKA SA website 1 500 or 2000 dishes are planned within the core area alone. Could heat reflection from these large white dishes (each 15 m in diameter), placed in close proximity to each other, result in micro climate changes? All white surfaces reflect heat, even a white roof does and it can be measured. Will air currents, moisture content, and rainfall patterns be influenced in the immediate SKA areas? The reflections from the white dishes might attract insects by night, especially mosquitoes after rains during certain seasons. Could the planned core site become a breeding ground for insects and create problems?
Congregations and sectors of the local community are joining to express their concerns and unite in solidarity. Self preservation, protecting future generations and preserving the environment is on peoples' minds. SKA's expansion plans initially sent shock waves throughout the community, but a gradual shift towards an united front exercising damage control on a constructive level is falling into place. Ordinary citizens want their voices to be heard and want answers and solutions.
Restrictions on radio frequencies and the loss of mobile communications will have direct consequences on all social structures. Much of the Northern Cape will be thrown back to an era before mobile technology. Human resources, potential growth, creativity and personal development could be compromised. Hand held mobile devices are educational tools and connects the global community. Families and friends will feel cut off from each other and this could typically lead to social problems. Many might choose to move away from the area, and perhaps reduced human activity might be welcomed by the SKA foundation.
Municipalities are struggling nationally with chronic housing shortages, according to research work done by the International Labour Organisations (ILO)in 2015. Karoo towns are no exception, and the problem will worsen should people be displaced. For example, by late 2015 there were 630 applications for subsidized houses in the town of Carnarvon. Only about 80 homes have been built by the state in Carnarvon over the last 20 years (4 houses annually). Should farms no longer produce, more people will look for housing in the local towns, where crowded conditions, comparatively high rentals, and sanitary challenges already prevail. The CSIR report neglects to mention the housing shortage in Carnarvon, but mentions the housing shortages in towns further away from the core area.
The number of registered homeless people in Carnarvon was 61 early in 2016. According to a municipal employee, this figure is incomplete and could be much higher. There are several areas with shacks, people who sleep under the open sky, and overcrowded homes where large extended families are crammed into a small space. Social work is plentiful, and abusive substances pose a problem. The South African government is spending "astronomical" amounts on SKA while many of its people living in the area are in dire need of basic facilities. Funds to the tune of R 600 000 recently disappeared out of the municipal coffers intended for a local soup kitchen to feed the poor. Social and political problems may escalate should unemployment figures rise.
Churches, recreational facilities, clubs and organisations and unions will lose members and their financial contributions. Cultural activities and annual traditions will fall away due to radio signal restrictions, such as the annual fly-in where pilots "jet" in to Carnarvon for a weekend of flying and fun. Many towns have quaint restaurants, small hotels, annual shows, sporting events, extra curricular activities and privately organised charities and social programs to add quality of life to rural existence. Typically the weaker members of society are taken care of by private initiatives and charitable organisations as some operate with little or no state support. The success of all activities in rural towns, depend on financial contributions from the farming sector and on the participation of all its people.
There are dinosaur fossils in the Karoo as it was a swamp millions of years ago. Rock art, spearheads, remnants of early settlements and stone constructions are frequently found. These are often places of spiritual value to former inhabitants of the area and rightfully deserve to be honoured. Corbelled houses are unique to the area. There are very old and artistically crafted gravestones on farms where cemeteries house 5 or 6 generation. Some farms have beautiful old Victorian homes. Many towns have Victorian and Art Deco homes or structures and some of the early churches are true heritage gems. Simple stone masonry work of a by gone era with pleasing proportions adorn towns and farms. There are 40 heritage sites listed in Carnarvon. Examples for Williston and Carnarvon
Authors past and present of note come from this area or still reside here. And many famous stories and legends find their origin in this unique, hardy and somewhat rugged place. The extremities of the land and weather conditions are reflected in peoples faces, their moods and attitude. This is the stuff that makes them so different, so honest and real, and so like-able. There is sadness from the past and there is still hunger and need, and there is fear for the future is now unknown... But there is always time to talk, time for a handshake and time for a kind word, or argument. Life happens on the street, and people like to talk and laugh together. People have nicknames, very funny ones. Humour acts like cements and unites people at the core. Here are some famous characters form the Karoo
Rhythm, joy, passionate belief and song flow from churches every Sunday morning. Souls uplift...joy and rhythm, rhythm and joy! Dance, in rhythm and joy with the people of the Northern Cape, and they will dance with you in joy. It is captivating, simply captivating. One example is the VG Kerk. The VG Church was established in 1847 as a Rhenish mission and has old and rich traditions.
For more information see CSIR's Heritage Assessment.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) ran several workshops to engage with locals about SKA phase 1. Stakeholders were encouraged to object in writing rather than through debate at the meetings. Many written representations were forwarded to the DST but there are no known accounts of answers or solutions in return. Unfortunately these meetings were not well advertised and this limited participation. The minutes to these meetings were never shared with the public, and so continued discussion, negotiations and problem solving became impossible. The public is ill-informed despite a multitude of meetings where transparency or solutions have not been offered.
SKA representatives have also regularly held meetings with local inhabitants, but no minutes were supplied either. It became common practise at the opening of meetings hosted by SKA for a representative to firstly admit that the organisation had not behaved in a transparent manner in the past, but that it would change with immediate effect. The public would then be requested to be trusting of SKA's and its good will. Such comments have been repeated at almost every public meeting. However the minutes of these meetings were not supplied but rather continued to be withheld despite several requests. Some SKA officials have persistently claimed at public meetings that a phase 2 is a mere dream and will never happen. This is clearly to calm people down as the project threatens to swallow more and more space, while displacing more and more people. There is a lot of literature on the later phase and even agreements with other African countries. On the 17 of February 2017 a SKA representative admitted that phase 2 is planned and a reality.
The lack of minutes after meetings resulted in a disruption of the public participation process, and inadequate communication. The missing minutes, lack of certain impact studies, outstanding answers from the DST and SKA have left the public in a vacuum. Late in 2016 SKA invited stakeholders along the intended corridor arms to information sessions. Some people were surprised to discover, at that late stage, that they were stakeholders. By then the SEA was completed and these people were denied participation in the public participation process completely.
The public demanded to see the earliest impact studies, public participation and Expert reports before the AGA Act of 2007. Which laws allow for such an Act without the public having access to all the information in advance? Environmental Impact Assessments of 2007 and 2009 concerned with Kat7 and MeerKat respectively are available. The AGA Act, however, written in 2007 allows for SKA phase 1, and a further phase.
The Central Karoo Astronomically Advantaged Area (CKAAA) was first stipulated in the AGA Act of 2007. Later, on the 19 February 2010, the minister of Science and Technology declared the whole of the Northern Cape (green province on the map) an AAA, excluding only Sol Plaaatje municipality with Kimberley as the capital. Therefore all Northern Cape municipalities excluding one could in future be affected and regulated. Only radio frequencies below 100 Mhz, and above 25.5 Ghz will not be subject to restriction. This potentially turns the province into a silent reserve or into a radio protected area. Will the air space above this province become a no-fly zone? Will mobile communication be lost? South African statistics show that the population of the Northern Cape is 1 150 900, and that the population of the Sol Plaatjie municipality is 250 000.
Will the future of about 950 000 people be potentially impacted in the Northern Cape by further SKA expansion.
Here a more affluent agriculturally based economy exists than in many other parts of the Northern Cape.
Total area of Central Karoo AAA is 104691.254 km2. The total area of the Northern Cape is roughly 372 8000 km2, and most of the province was declared a AAA in 2010.
The perimeter of the Central Karoo AAA is 1 240.357 km. The perimeters along the spiralling corridors regulated by legislation, will be greater, affecting thousands of commercial farms.
The size of the Central Karoo AAA, comparison to other well know areas:131,957 km2 - Greece
On the 23 rd November 2015, the Department of Science and Technology published Government Gazette number 1166. Eight corridors are indicated within the AAA. The following quote accompanies this map; " The map below depicts the protection corridors required for approximately 54 SKA radio astronomy stations located within the Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area 1". Save The Karoo would like to apologize for the poor quality of the corridor maps, but these are the best maps received from the Department of Science and Technology to date.
Radio astronomy websites explain that the absence of human activities is an important requirement for accurate data collection from the universe. Also high altitude and dryness are important. Water droplets, even the presence of fog in winter, may scatter radio signals and compromise data collection.
Environmental factors are also taken into consideration due to their potential impact on radio astronomy, for example altitude, weather, geology and topography.
Remote deserts might be considered cost prohibitive to develop for radio astronomy. The more remote the chosen locations is the higher the costs involved become. Therefore sites with existing infrastructure may be considered more cost effective, but typically infrastructure exists due to human settlement, especially due to financially viable communities... and conflict may result.
The radio astronomy project ALMA, in Chile, is situated in a true desert, at an altitude of 5000 meters above sea level where the rainfall is below 100 mm annually. The advantages of high altitude and dry climatic conditions for radio astronomy are highlighted on ALMA's website. While the chosen site in South Africa is 1000 meters above sea level and has an average rainfall of 230 to 250 mm annually.
Australia's chosen site is situated in the Murchison Shire. According to SKA Australia, the site covers an area almost the size of the Netherlands, but only one hundred people live there. The population density of the Australian site is a mere fraction of the population density of the South Africa site. The population densities at the SKA site in Australia and the population density at the SKA site in South African site compare as follows:
The people of the Karoo are asking the SKA International Partners States and the SKA Non-Partner States to take a close look at the SKA SA project which they are financing. Please consider the inhabitants of the Northern Cape and Africa now and in the future. The people of the Karoo and future generations, including the unborn, need to be protected. The natural environment on which we depend must be protected from exploitation, destruction and from ecocide.