Dr Bernie Fanaroff ,Director of the Ska South Africa Project(L-R) Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and technology and Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology at a special media briefing on the SKA South Africa Project held at the SKA head office in Rosebank. NB NB PLEASE DONT CROP THE IMAGE especially not the meercat posing for the photo, thanx Picture: Antoine de Ras, 29/03/2012

President Jacob Zuma congratulated Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor and her team on Friday for winning the right to co-host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope with Australia.

“We are especially proud of winning this bid... on Africa Day,” Zuma said in a statement.

“Africa is indeed rising. South Africa is confident that the country will deliver on the expectations of the continent and world.”

Zuma said the this achievement was possible because of the African Union's endorsement and support from partner countries including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia and Zambia.

Earlier, it was announced that the SKA board had decided on a “dual site approach.

“We will be installing equipment in both Australia and South Africa and together they will form part of a global observatory,” the French news agency AFP quoted SKA board chairman John Womersley as saying at a press conference at the Schiphol Airport, in Amsterdam.

“This is a momentous day for South Africa and the continent and will give all of us the possibility to answer fundamental questions in physics, astronomy and cosmology,” the African National Congress said.

“It will advance our scientific research capacity as a country and a continent and will also see a lot of foreign direct investment injected into this project, which will go a long way in creating much-needed jobs...”

The ANC said it would also put South Africa in good stead to advance to an inclusive information society.

Democratic Alliance MP Junita Kloppers-Lourens said the party was disheartened, but not dismayed at the decision.

“Today, Africa Day, we yearned to win the SKA bid to exemplify the African dream outright,” she said.

“A draw is no loss, though, and the majority of physical infrastructure in phase one will be built in South Africa.”

She said the SKA advisory committee had identified Southern Africa as the preferred site.

“That we will receive the lion's share of the biggest ever scientific project may serve to reverse the trajectory of dead aid that has characterised the African continent and signal a new era of cutting edge investment that incisively builds our knowledge economy.”

Trade union Uasa congratulated Pandor and her team and said that in this venture, South Africa would be at the forefront of technology.

“Waiting for the announcement has been reminiscent of the announcement when we won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010,” it said.

“The technical committee, in this instance, did us proud and we are ready to host the world's most powerful radio telescope.”

Construction of the SKA is expected to cost about Euro 1.5-billion, and the SKA consortium is expected to spend about Euro 100 million to Euro 150 million a year to operate and maintain the telescope.

A significant portion of the capital, operations and maintenance costs would be spent in the host countries.

Brand SA congratulated the department on its success.

“We thank the bid committee for giving us and our African partners the platform to bring the stars and the universe closer to the leaders and explorers of tomorrow,” CEO Miller Matola said.

“It is really apt to have received the news on Africa Day, a day that celebrates the African continents rich heritage and diversity.”

With this, South Africa will foster a culture of co-operation with African consortiums and invest more resources and energy towards promoting strong linkages with Australia, said Matola.

“In addition, the SKA will bring advancements of astro-sciences to both countries and facilitate knowledge sharing between young and older astronomy and cosmology experts.”

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) said this was a proud moment for the country.

“This is a major scientific coup for South Africa and will serve as a key research advantage to the entire scientific community,” it said.

“We believe that the SKA will be the most powerful major radio astronomy programme in the 21st Century that will allow us not only to understand the physics and the evolution of the universe and its structures, but also new aspects of astrophysics...”

New opportunities would now open for South African scientists to collaborate with some of the best scientists in Australia and the world, it said.

The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than the most powerful telescopes presently available.

AFP said the contract, estimated at US2 billion, would increase in cost because of the split location. - Sapa