When Stars Collide: Competing Development Paradigms in the Central Karoo
Author: Doreen Atkinson
Publication: Journal of Southern African Studies, 2019
Date: 12 Aug 2019
Since the early 2000s, the roll-out of the MeerKAT astronomy project and the subsequent Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the Carnarvon area of the northern Karoo has been remarkably rapid and well managed. This article argues that the project, and the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa, have taken on the characteristics of a ‘developmental state’. This is remarkable, particularly in the context of the general problem of high-level government corruption and ‘state capture’. In the process, the SKA project has also shown a significant degree of centralist direction, which has brought it into tension with the constitutional provisions for decentralised municipal leadership in developmental planning. The weakness of the relevant local and district municipalities can be ascribed to the general problems of poor financing and local leadership; in addition, the Department of Co-operative Governance, at both national and provincial levels, has made no meaningful effort to assist the municipalities in grappling with a highly sophisticated scientific project being implemented within their jurisdiction. In particular, the extensive land acquisition by SKA and its requirements for restrictions on radio-frequency interference may have extensive implications for local and regional development. The article engages with theories of a ‘developmental state’ in South Africa, by arguing that it is possible for a single department to adopt such a centralist modus operandi, even though the rest of the state is characterised by dysfunctions.