Sunday, February 20, 2011


Even though budgets across government departments were slashed by 20 percent, the Swaziland Finance Minister Majozi Sithole has still managed to find another E469 million (US$66 million) to waste on Sikhuphe Airport.

Today (20 February 2011), the Times Sunday,an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported that the E469 million to be spent this year includes construction costs at the airport, road building, at least E15 million to market the airport, E10 million be relocate services for the Manzini-Mbhadlane road project, which is also a link road to Sikhuphe, plus a further E6 million to be spent by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development on the establishment of a Sikhuphe Local Authority.

Sithole told the Swazi parliament during his budget speech on Friday (18 February 2011) that ‘preparations for the operation of the Sikhuphe Airport is at an advanced stage’. What he didn’t say was that the airport, a vanity project for King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has now missed its opening date of March 2010 by almost exactly one year. And it’s missed every other deadline set since then.

So when will it be finished? Sithole didn’t give a date for competition. Economic Planning and Development Minister Prince Hlangusemphi, also refused to give the Weekend Observer newspaper a date for completion. But, Bertram Stewart, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development later told the Times Sunday, the airport would be completed by June (but he didn’t say which June).

The Weekend Observer reported yesterday that work is continuing on building the airport, despite lots of problems relating to cash. In October 2010 contractors stopped work because the government had not paid its bills. The Times Sunday reported that contractor Stefanutti & Bressan was owed E146 145 604.82 and Inyatsi Construction was owed E64 260 884.20.

One informed estimate is that by the time all work is finished on the airport it will have cost US$1 billion.

Innocent Maphalala, Editor of the Times Sunday, writing in his own newspaper today, makes the very valid comment, ‘It is obvious that as far as this airport is concerned, it is all systems go. Sithole and his Cabinet colleagues are not stupid. They know Sikhuphe will not even be able to help the country recoup what it has spent building it. So, why are they pressing on?’

At no point has there been an independent ‘needs analysis’ to see whether Swaziland needs a new airport. Earlier this month I revealed that the airport had no taxiway and would not be able to handle large numbers of aircraft. By the airport management’s own calculation, the maximum number of passengers the airport expects to handle is 300,000 per year - the equivalent of fewer than two Jumbo jets-loads of passengers per day.

Bertram Stewart, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, is still making claims that the airport will be a success. He says his ministry is in negotiations with several prospective airlines which have shown interest in utilising it.

He refused to name them to the Times Sunday, but said negotiations with an airline ‘were at an advanced stage’. He only said the airline was world renowned and it would use the airport as its base for its operations in Southern Africa.

We’ve heard all this before. In October 2009, King Mswati claimed Etihad Airways from the Gulf State of Abu Dhabi was showing ‘deep interest’ in using Sikhuphe. Nothing has been heard since.

The Weekend Observer said, ‘A team of investors is already in the country wishing to construct a railway line from Sikhuphe to join the one to Maputo. The same investors are planning to construct another line from Ngwenya tourist attraction area to Carolina in South Africa. This would enable the movement of tourists by luxury rail coaches to and from the neighbouring countries while enjoying the landscape.’

I don’t believe a word of it. Do you?

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