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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

SIKHUPHE: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

The Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, has been ‘talking up’ Sikhuphe International Airport by pointing out the ‘business opportunities it will bring.


Unfortunately, it couldn’t come up with much more than a few cleaning and maintenance jobs – not much for the 1 billion US dollars the airport is expected to have cost if it ever gets completed.


The Weekend Observer article, written by Derrick Dlamini, goes on to claim that the airport will become a vital place for airlines to park their planes (even if they don’t use the airport to land at).


Again, hardly value for money.


Dlamini lets the cat out of the bag about when the airport, a vanity project of King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will be operational.


The king promised it would be operational this month (March 2010). Others claimed it would be receiving planes in time for the FIFA World Cup in neighbouring South Africa which starts in June 2010.


Dlamini reckons ‘within a couple of months, planes will technically be able to land and take off’.


Technically? He goes on, ‘Of course this doesn’t mean that the whole facility will be or need to be, completed. An educated guesstimate suggests that by the end of the year, to early next year, core construction will be done and the place will be fully functional.’


Thanks Dlamini, but this isn’t what the king has been telling international business people.


There is a lot of ‘whistling in the dark’ here. There is no evidence that the airport is needed and to date no airline has said it will use it when it eventually opens.


I am reminded of a report from the IPS news agency in 2004, when the plan for Sikhuphe was announced.


IPS pointed out that there were plenty of airports nearby already.


‘Johannesburg International airport in South Africa’s main commercial centre, about 45 minutes by air from Swaziland, has just completed renovations on some of its terminal buildings.


‘The port city of Durban in South Africa, some 20 minutes east of Swaziland, has also revamped its airport facility – while renovations are proceeding at the airport in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. This facility is ten minutes by air from Sikhupe.


‘Possibly a greater threat is the new Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMI), which boasts of the world’s largest thatched roof – and which offers quick tourist access to South Africa’s renowned Kruger game reserve in the east of the country.’

IPS also reported that, ‘The two commercial air carriers that currently service Swaziland say they have no intention of relocating to the small eastern community of Sikhupe, where the airport is being built. Both want to continue operating out of an existing airport at Matsapha, located near Manzini – the kingdom’s commercial hub and most populous urban centre.’


In 2004 it was concluded that Sikhuphe was not needed – so please tell me what has changed now?

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