Carnarvon - She is a vibrant woman in a leopard skin top who runs between guest houses, bookings ledger in one hand and cellphone in the other.
She is Marie Jacobs of Carnarvon, once a teacher and now one of the busiest people in the town, where she runs 63 beds in her fleet of guest houses.
For many in this tiny Northern Cape town, the construction of the MeerKAT radio telescope, part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, has not changed life much.
“But the guest houses, we are doing well. I started with two little rooms at Safari Lodge in 2004, then I bought Out of Africa. Kalahari Lodge and Ikhaya Africa I built with cash from the money I made from bookings. My husband is a farmer and he can’t believe it,” Jacobs laughs.
She did a lot of the work herself, including all the mosaics on the walls.
“And I lost the diamond from my ring somewhere in all this. Oh, I was upset,” she said, stroking a mosaic.
Most bookings are during the week, by people in government and those working on SKA or related projects.
The town’s grocery stores and restaurants benefit from Jacobs’s self-catering units as she gives guests meal vouchers to be used at these.
“Some people prefer to buy meat and braai, or sometimes they buy stuff to take with them, but at least the businesses benefit.”
Christo Steyn, who runs the Carnarvon Hotel, says he has some extra business from the SKA construction workers, mainly in the pub.
“They work out there very far away, and at the end of the month have a few drinks and go back again. Some book in for a few days.”
The doctor, AJ Vorster, grew up in Carnarvon and has seen it run down, with the big agricultural co-op closing in the 1990s.
“It’s a poor town. The only income is from agriculture and social pensions and grants. SKA has not made a big difference, but it has helped it in some way, for instance when people worked on tarring the road from Vosburg.
“But it’s mainly the guest houses that benefit.”
Willem van Wyk directs cars on the main road. Has he heard of SKA, and has it made a difference to his life? “Missie, ek soek geld vir brood asseblief (I want money for bread),” he replies. We explain a little more and he tells us to wait and yells across the road. Two men in overalls walk over.
Masels van Wyk, 23, used to work on farms, then got a seventh-month job as a labourer with Group Five, building MeerKAT’s data centre.
His friend, Andries George, also worked on the construction site, but for only three months.
They earned R10.50 an hour for a 25-day month.
“It was good to have the job, but it was just for a few months. Now we have no work again,” said Van Wyk. - Cape Times