Monday, February 21, 2011


Here’s proof – as if we needed any more – that the Swaziland Government never had a clue why it was necessary to build Sikhuphe Airport, at a possible cost of US$1 billion.

On Saturday (19 February 2011), Prince Hlangusemphi, Swaziland’s Economic Planning and Development Minister, was quoted in the Weekend Observer saying, Sikhuphe’s potential was enormous and it would attract aircraft and ease the ‘congestion suffered by OR [Tambo] International Airport in Johannesburg’.

Anyone who’s been paying attention over the past few years will know that OR Tambo underwent a multi-billion Rand development in preparation for the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa last year. Work on a new terminal continues and may be completed in 2012.

That means there is no congestion at OR Tambo – and therefore no potential business for Sikhuphe. And there never was.

So apart from the non-existent overspill from OR Tambo, where else is the business for Sikhuphe? Prince Hlangusemphi told the Weekend Observer that the airport would bring ‘large groups of tourists’. But where from?

The Swaziland Tourist Authority (STA) reported last week that most tourists to Swaziland are South African and Mozambican. They come by road, not air.

Eric Maseko , STA Chief Executive Officer, said his marketing department would intensify promoting Swaziland in South Africa and Mozambique in the coming year.

There is not a scrap of evidence that when Sikhuphe airport is open it will attract visitors from further afield. There is already an airport on Swaziland and if tourists want to fly into the kingdom, they can already do so. They don’t want to come in any numbers – and there’s no reason to suppose they will want to with a new airport.

Even the management of the airport recognises that at best 300,000 passengers per year will fly through Sikhuphe. That’s 822 on average per day – fewer than two ‘Jumbo Jets’ full of people.

The Prince also talked about Sikhuphe bringing ‘business and employment opportunities’. What are these exactly? Certainly, there have been opportunities for non-Swazi companies to make money on the construction of the airport and the roads running to it. But what about the ordinary Swazi? The best they have gotten is unskilled work. Once the airport opens there will be opportunities for jobs in baggage handling (but not many with so few planes coming and going), cleaning and general clerical work. Not much for a US$1 billion cost.

And remember, the billion is the cost of getting the thing built; it doesn’t include the day-to-day running costs to keep the underused airport open.

A total of another E469 million is being set aside for Sikhuphe in this year’s national budget – at a time when government department budgets are being slashed by 20 percent, on top of the 14 percent cut in the past year.

What a waste of money. E469 million is nearly the total amount (E489 million) the government intends to spend on tertiary level student scholarships and the cost of running the University of Swaziland (UNISWA) combined in the coming year. But Majozie Sithole, the Finance Minister, says Swaziland can no longer afford to award scholarships in future.

Of course it can’t, it’s wasted the money on Sikhuphe Airport, King Mswati III’s vanity project.

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