Progress was "definitely" being made in addressing the concerns of Northern Cape farmers over access to telecommunications, Agri Noord Kaap's president, Henk van Wyk, said this week.
Now that SA has been allocated the lion's share of the square kilometre array (SKA), the spotlight is falling on whether the R23bn radio telescope will bring benefits to local communities. The Democratic Alliance (DA) yesterday called on Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor to engage with communities about the SKA site.
"After visiting the area, it was clear ... that South Africans in those communities feel neglected and excluded from the benefits that are to be reaped from the SKA," DA shadow minister for science and technology Junita Kloppers-Lourens said. The main issue cited by Ms Kloppers-Lourens was access to telecommunications, although she said there were others.
"During her budget vote debate, (Ms Pandor) assured me that she would follow up on their concerns. It is time for the minister to deliver on these promises."Telcomms always an issue
Telecommunications have always been an issue in the Northern Cape because of the large distances and sparse population, but these problems have been worsened by cable theft, leaving most farmers dependent on cellphones. However, this crisis has been deepened by SA's SKA precursor telescope, the MeerKAT, as well as the bid to host the SKA itself: cellphones, radios and most telecommunications interfere with radio telescopes.
The government passed the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007 to preserve the radio quiet in the area. Local farmers have argued this would infringe on their ability to stay connected and develop the area, and would worsen urbanisation and depopulation.
Some farmers have lost signal because of this. But Mr van Wyk said farmers who had lost cellular reception had received satellite telephones from MTN and Vodacom.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens said she would schedule a meeting with Ms Pandor to address the matter, and would bring farmers from the area, specifically from Williston which is the second-closest town to the SKA site, to discuss their grievances.
Source: Business Day,/i> via I-Net Bridge