Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor has encouraged those learners who won the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)-MeerKat Schools Competition to study maths and science, saying South Africa needs more people with these skills.
Speaking at the awards ceremony in Pretoria on Monday, Pandor told the successful learners that the country needed more scientists. "We want to invest through you."
She also encouraged learners to be innovative so they change the character of South Africa.
Learners from Grades 4 to 11 from various schools throughout the country were given an opportunity to enter the SKA-MeerKat competition, and 200 000 competition forms were distributed to various schools, science centres and community centres.
The department received over 36 000 entry forms in the primary and high school categories across all nine provinces, where learners had to fill out a form and complete a multiple choice questionnaire based on the SKA project.
The aim of the competition was to increase awareness of one of the most exciting engineering and research projects ever undertaken. Prizes included laptops, printers, digital cameras and organised tours to their nearest astronomy observatory.
Karobo Melato, a 14-year-old Grade 7 learner at Boiterelo Primary School in Potchefstroom in the North West Province, was one of the learners who won the competition; he told SANews that upon completing matric, he wanted to be a technician in the South African National Defence Force.
"I want to operate the big machines in the Defence Force," he said.
South Africa and its partner countries won the bid to host most of the telescope, with 70% of the telescope to be built in Africa and 30% in Australia.
Once complete, the SKA will consist of about 3 000 dish-shaped antennae spread over an area of over 3 000km. The core of the telescope will be constructed in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape, with outlying telescope stations throughout South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia and Zambia.
The magnitude and sensitivity of the SKA telescope will allow scientists to explore the origins of the first galaxies, stars and planets and the evolution of the universe. It will be able to collect weak cosmic radio signals from the edges of the universe from a time before the first stars and galaxies formed.
As the main host of the SKA, South Africa is expected to become a global centre for information technology, fundamental physics, astronomy and high-tech engineering. Top scientists and engineers throughout the world will be attracted to the country's shores.