Saturday, November 15, 2008


Attention was focused this week on Swaziland’s only airport when the Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was delayed on his way to a meeting since the plane he was waiting for was unable to land at Matsapha International Airport because it was too dangerous to do so.

According to a report in the Times of Swaziland this was because of a breakdown in communication between the air traffic controllers and the pilot. In the past the Swazi airspace has been declared ‘dangerous’ by aviation specialists because of its poor navigational systems.

Passengers had to return to the plane’s starting point of Johannesburg, South Africa, and get a later flight. The Prime Minister took a car to his meeting.

The Times reports that planes failing to land at the Swazi airport ‘has become near normal with a similar occurrence every other month’.

Times editor Martin Dlamini in his weekly Just Thinking comment column yesterday (14 November 2008) said Matsapha airport had been allowed to run down because the Swazi Government was concentrating its efforts on building a new airport at Sikhuphe.

‘It made us wonder why we would want to build a multi-million airport at Sikhuphe when we couldn’t run a multi-hundred model in Matsapha,’ he said.

Dlamini is too polite to answer his own question. The ‘multi-million’ international airport at Sikhuphe is one of King Mswati III’s vanity projects. He says that Swaziland needs the airport and therefore there shall be one.

There is no independent study on air transport needs in Swaziland that justifies a new airport.

The present airport at Matsapha is situated near a main road between Swaziland’s capital city Mbabane and the kingdom’s commercial centre, Manzini. It can be easily reached by travellers, but even so the airport is hardly used and only a handful of flights go to and from neighbouring South Africa each day. When I have used the service the small planes used are usually only partially full.

By contrast Sikhuphe is in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t even have an existing main road running to the construction site. If the airport ever gets built, it will be more inconvenient for passengers to reach it from Swaziland’s major cities than Matsapha.

The ‘justification’ for the new airport is that it would become a ‘hub’ for travellers into southern Africa. So the story goes, they will arrive from afar into Sikhuphe and then travel on into South Africa.

Quite why people should want to do that when South Africa is chockabloc with its own airports has never been explained.

Now, the Swazi people are going to have to pay for a useless airport, when the money could be used on more relevant development projects, such as irrigation for the drought stricken areas of the Lowveld.

Meanwhile, Sikhuphe will go down in history as another of the king’s follies alongside the E28 million spent (and later lost) on a deposit for his private jet.

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