Saturday, November 10, 2012


Swaziland’s new airport at Sikhuphe will be open for business in early 2013, according to Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development.

But don’t hold your breath. Stewart has been making claims about the opening date of the airport, dubbed King Mswati III’s ‘vanity project’ for years. And every prediction he makes turns out to be false.

In October 2010, Stewart said the airport would be open by the end of that year. It wasn’t.

Stewart was at it again in February 2011, when he confidently told media the airport would be completed by June 2011. It wasn’t.He also said a number of top world airlines (that he declined to name) were negotiating to use Sikhuphe. Nothing happened.

He returned to the theme two months later in April 2011 when this time he said the airport would be open by December 2011. But still no airport.

Now, the Swazi News, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reports Stewart saying Sikhuphe will start operating early next year (2013). Stewart told this to ambassadors from the Far East who were being given a tour of the airport construction site.

Sikhuphe has been criticised both inside and outside of Swaziland for being expensive and unnecessary.

There are also doubts that the airport, if completed, will be suitable for intercontinental aircraft.

The Chief Protocol Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Promise Msibi let the cat out of the bag during the ambassadors’ tour. The Swazi News reports he ‘expressed concern at the apparent thinness of the runway and wanted to know if it was suitable for use by aircrafts.’

To which Stewart reportedly replied ‘to the naked eye, the runway looked thin but it had been proven to be suitable for use by all kinds of aircrafts’.

The building of Sikhuphe has been controversial because there is no obvious need for it. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha and no needs-analysis was ever completed to demonstrate why another airport should be built.

Most of the impetus for the building of the airport has come from King Mswati, Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, who is keen to show that the kingdom he rules is on its way to becoming a ‘first world’ nation.

Estimates for the total cost of Sikhuphe – including the airport itself, roads that need to be built to reach it, and other expenditure associated with it, have reached US$1 billion. 

Swaziland is broke and the International Monetary Fund has in the past criticised the building of Sikhuphe as a waste of valuable resources that could be better used on development in the kingdom.

Last week the IMF said Swaziland’s economy was in such poor shape that, ‘Capital projects should be prioritized and funded based on maximizing their impact on economic growth and poverty alleviation.’

Despite this, it is widely expected cash will continue to be poured into Sikhuphe because it is supported by the king.

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