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Saturday, 18 April 2015

ARREST WARRANT FOR CHIEF JUSTICE

A warrant for the arrest of Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi on 23 charges including abuse of power has been issued, according to reports in a newspaper owned by King Mswati III.

The King, the absolute monarch in Swaziland, personally appointed Ramodibedi to office. 

The news follows 48 hours of intense speculation on social media that Ramodibedi had fled Swaziland into neighbouring South Africa to escape arrest.

The King in effect owns the Observer Saturday newspaper, which ran the story and it is inconceivable it would have published the report without the King’s permission.

The newspaper reported on Saturday (18 April 2015) that the warrant was granted by High Court Principal Judge Justice Stanley Maphalala.

A warrant for the arrest of High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane was made at the same time.

The Observer reported, ‘Their charges are that of conflict of interest, defeating the ends of justice and abuse of power in that the Chief Justice Ramodibedi allocated his case of contesting his E128,000 [US$12,800] gratuity against the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) to Justice Mpendulo Simelane in full knowledge that Judge Simelane in his then capacity as Registrar of the High Court, made written and oral representations on the chief justice’s behalf to the SRA.  

‘Their act has eroded the confidence of the public in the country’s justice system. The Chief Justice, who had gone on a short trip to South Africa, returned to the country yesterday [Friday 17 April 2015] afternoon, amid reports that the ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] wanted to get a warrant of arrest against him and Judge Mpendulo.’

The Observer on Saturday reported that at least 23 charges had been prepared.

According to the Observer, among charges ‘likely to be faced by the CJ’ are:

‘The Chief Justice Mathealira Michael Ramodibedi is guilty of serious misbehaviour in that;

‘He unlawfully recorded a private telephonic discussion between himself and the prime minister;

‘In that he allocated his case against the Swaziland Revenue Authority to Justice Mpendulo Simelane in full knowledge that Judge Simelane in his capacity as Registrar of the High Court, made written and oral representations on the Chief Justice’s behalf to SRA. By doing so, the CJ eroded the confidence of the public in the country’s justice system;

‘Contrary to the integrity expected of a judicial officer, by the Judicial Code of Ethics for the Judiciary of Swaziland, he directed that the application of Wezzy Ndzimadze and others vs Titselo Ndzimandze and others be heard and framed the issues for resolution by the Court in circumstances where the applicants had withdrawn their application and the matter was not pending before him;

‘In that he made acting appointments, in terms of Section 153 (5) of the Constitution, of JM Mavuso and BS Dlamini to hear the case of Nkosinathi Simelane and others vs minister of finance and others in which he had a direct pecuniary interest, in the matter, in circumstances where he was not entitled to appoint the judges for the specific matter;

‘In that he made an acting appointment to the Supreme Court bench, in terms of Section 153 (5) of the Constitution of Justice Annandale to hear the case of Attorney General vs Nkosinathi Simelane and others, a case in which he had a direct pecuniary interest;

‘In that in his capacity as head of the judiciary, he allowed Acting Justice Annandale to sign on behalf of other judges in matters of: Attorney General vs Nkosinathi Simelane and others, Attorney General vs Wezzy Ndzimandze and others and Majalimane Zulu v Nhlangano Town Council;

‘In that contrary to convention he failed to cause the appointment of acting judges to be published in the government gazette;

‘In that he brought the judiciary into disrepute by permitting the registrar of the High Court to publicly address the Executive in a language whose tone and manner was inconsistent with dignity of the judicial office;

‘In that he directed the registrar of the Supreme Court to submit claims for remuneration allowance for Supreme Court justices for May and November 2014 sessions for which justices were not entitled;

‘In that contrary to the integrity expected of a judicial officer, in January 2015, he refused to submit to the Executive arm of Government a report of an accident in which his official motor vehicle was involved;

‘In that he refused to allocate houses to High Court judges at the judicial complex, until he was ordered to do so by the highest authority in the land [the King]. As a result, a government house occupied by Madam Justice Mabuza and neighbouring government houses could not be demolished to make way for the construction of the building that will house the UN Agencies in Swaziland. The construction was delayed by three months;

‘In that he abused his powers by authorising the ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] to enter into contract for the provision of security services without the contract being submitted to the AG for vetting as required by the Constitution;

‘In that as chairman of the JSC usurped the power of other institutions by drawing contracts for the deputy ACC commissioners when their mandate begins and ends with recommendation of appointments to His Majesty the King and disciplinary procedures upon being reported to by the commissioner;

‘As chairman of the JSC engaged Lilian Zwane as Deputy Commissioner Operations of the ACC for a third term in breach of legislation which provides for a maximum of two terms;

‘In that he failed to take action when the ACC commissioner filed a report on the misconduct of the Deputy Commissioner Operations, Zwane;

‘In that he failed to authorise the payments of salaries to the staff of Swazilii;

‘In that he nominated the most junior substantive judge of the High Court to the COMESA Court of Justice ahead of senior and more experienced judges. The chief justice’s conduct caused the country humiliation at a continental stage where the nomination of the junior judge had to be withdrawn and replaced at a late hour.’  

CALL TO BAN ‘NATION’ MAGAZINE

Swaziland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze is angry that copies of the Nation magazine, which carries articles advocating for democracy in the kingdom, were found at King Mswati III Airport and on board a plane flying to South Africa.

The magazine, which is legally available throughout Swaziland, was spotted by Swazi Senator Bonsile Mngometulu.

According to a report in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, she, ‘questioned the vigilance of the KMIII International Airport authorities’.

The newspaper reported, ‘She said the March issue of the magazine carried defamatory articles about the country yet the authorities of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) allowed it to be placed there. She did not specify on the contents of the article but said it was capable of damaging the image of the country and further turn away potential investors.’

Among the articles published in the March 2015 edition of the Nation was one about the role King Mswati played in the closure of an iron ore mining company at Ngwenya

Mngometulu said police should have prevented the magazine being distributed at the airport. She was speaking at a briefing between the senate portfolio committee and the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation on Wednesday (15 April 2015). 

Presently, Bheki Makhubu, the editor of the Nation, and human rights lawyer and writer Thulani Maseko are serving two years in jail after writing and publishing articles critical of the judiciary in the magazine.

The Observer reported that Chief Gamedze, ‘said that the authorities should have detected that there was something wrong and prevented the distribution of the magazine in the aircraft. 

‘He agreed it was a situation that needed to be prevented but said such was the responsibility of another ministry.’

 See also

JAILED WRITER IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
SWAZI JOURNALIST’S PRISON LETTER
SUPPORT FOR JAILED SWAZI JOURNALISTS
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/03/support-for-jailed-swazi-journalists.html

Friday, 17 April 2015

SWAZI KING’S SECRET JET PURCHASE

In May 2010, in the depths of Swaziland’s worst financial crisis in its history, King Mswati III secretly bought himself a private jet for US$11.45 million, it can be revealed publicly for the first time.

He then committed himself to paying another US$6 million over five months for luxury modifications.

While this was happening the Swazi Government, which he handpicked, was slashing department budgets and public services by E1.5 billion (US$150 million) in an attempt to keep the kingdom out of bankruptcy. Seven in ten Swazis continue to live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day.

In December 2010, unable or unwilling to pay his debts, the King sold the plane to Millers Capital, a Singapore-based investment company, for US$7.5 million – US$3.95 million less than he paid for it five months earlier. In April 2012, he bought the plane back from Millers for US$9.5 million – US$2 million more than he had sold it. He then claimed to the Swazi people that the plane had been donated to him by development partners.

The tangled financial history of the King’s MacDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as MD87) was revealed in papers at the Court of Appeal, Ontario, Canada, where the jet is being held in a business dispute over an alleged unpaid bill of US$3.5 million for upgrades made to the plane.

Papers presented to the court on 9 April 2015 revealed that on 20 May 2010, SG Air Leasing, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, sold the jet to Inchatsavane, a company whose sole shareholder was King Mswati, for US$11.45 million. The sale was for the shell aircraft and engines and did not include the interior.

There was an additional agreement between Inchatsavane and Goderich Aircraft Inc (GAI) of Ontario, Canada, to modify the interior of the aircraft for a price of US$6 million, which was to be paid by the King’s company in instalments between 7 June 2010 and 8 November 2010.

In November 2010 GAI said that Inchatsavane was in arrears of payments by about US$2.6 million.

A close business associate of King Mswati introduced him to Millers Capital to assist Inchatsavane in obtaining financing to pay off the debt.

On 30 December 2010, Millers Capital bought the aircraft from Inchatsavane for US$7.5 million, of which US$3 million went to GAI to pay off the arrears and US$4.5 million went to the King through his company Inchatsavane.

The court papers revealed that there was a verbal agreement between Millers Capital and Inchatsavane that the King would be allowed to repurchase the plane at a later date for US$9.5 million.

While the King was making this secret deal to secure the future of his private luxury jet, the Swazi economy was in free-fall. The mismanagement of the Swazi economy was so grave that in August 2010 both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank refused to support Swaziland’s attempt to raise a US$500 million loan from the African Development Bank.

In August 2011, GAI said it was insolvent and could not complete the upgrading of the aircraft. SG Air agreed to fund the continuing upgrading on the understanding that the King’s company Inchatsavane would repurchase the aircraft from Millers Capital for US$9.5 million.

The court papers stated that if Inchatsavane did not buy back the plane, SG Air had an understanding with Millers Capital that the aircraft would be sold and SG Air would recover its expenses from that sale.

As of 17 April 2012, the costs paid by SG Air on behalf of Inchatsavane for the modifications to the jet totalled US$3.275 million. 

SG Air paid a further US$1.37 million in connection with repairs and improvements to the plane. This took the total amount payable to more than US$4.6 million.

The upgrades were all to increase the luxuriousness of the jet and had nothing to do with ensuring the King’s security. The court papers stated the jet had nothing in it ‘making it unique or necessary for HMK [His Majesty the King] to conduct any state / sovereign business’.

The papers added the aircraft had, ‘no missile detection  system, no military radar, no ammunition resistant steel, no in-flight refuelling connection, nor does it have any advanced avionics and defences or electronic counter measures to interfere with enemy radar. 

‘Practically speaking, the aircraft is an “ordinary” airplane retrofitted with luxury amenities.’

The King through his company Inchatsavane repurchased the jet on 18 April 2012 for US$9.5 million from Millers capital, through Wells Fargo in its capacity as trustee. This was in line with the verbal agreement they had made in December 2010.

The government which is hand-picked by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, made several public statements in April 2012 to say the jet had been donated to the King as a gift by ‘development partners’.

This was the first public announcement made about the plane, although it had originally been purchased nearly two years earlier in May 2010.

The King’s Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, said on government-controlled radio that the King had been given the jet as a birthday gift, ‘from development partners and friends of the King, to be used by their majesties for travels abroad’.

Government spokesperson Percy Simelane said at the time, ‘The donor has asked to remain anonymous and we stand by that agreement.  We don’t owe anybody an apology for having been lucky to have someone purchase a jet for the King.’ 

In April 2015, the court papers stated that although Inchatsavane had not remitted the outstanding monies owed, SG Air did not press for payment ‘aggressively’. But, by November 2014, more than two-and-a-half-years after the plane’s repurchase, SG Air told the King it was ‘imperative’ that it be repaid.

To facilitate a speedy resolution, SG Air agreed with King Mswati that US$3.5 million should be paid to SG Air as ‘full and final’ settlement of the costs in connection with the aircraft. By making this offer, SG Air wrote off US$1.1 million of the debt.

By 16 December 2014, the debt had not been paid and SG Air succeeded in obtaining an attachment for unpaid debts of the aircraft which was in Goderich, Ontario, for routine maintenance. The plane remains attached by the court.

The Court of Appeal in Ontario is expected to have a further hearing on the case on 11 June 2015.

See also
SWAZI KING NOT ABOVE LAW IN CANADA
SWAZI KING IS ABOVE THE LAW, COURT TOLD
WHO PAID FOR SWAZI KING’S JET
REVEALED: COST OF FLYING KING’S JET
SWAZI MPs CONFUSED OVER KING’S JET
REVEALED: DETAILS OF KING’S NEW JET
KING'S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW
SWAZI KING ‘REFUSED TO PAY JET DEBT’
SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS
‘SWAZI KING TO BUY US$44m PRIVATE JET’

Thursday, 16 April 2015

SWAZI KING’S JET ‘TO BE RELEASED’

The King of Swaziland’s private luxury jet impounded by a court in Canada in a dispute over alleged unpaid debts could be released by Saturday (18 April 2015) after the Swazi Government paid US$3.5 million as a financial guarantee for the King.

The jet has been attached in Ontario, Canada, by a court since January 2015 in a dispute about unpaid bills for upgrades and modifications to the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 (also known as an MD-87).

A company called SG Air has taken Inchatsavane, a Swaziland-based company which is solely-owned by King Mswati III, to court in Canada alleging it owes US$3.5 million for the work done on the jet.

The jet was attached by the court in Ontario. 

Attachment is a legal process by which a court of law, at the request of a person who is owed money, requires property owned by the person who owes the money to be transferred to the person who is owed the money, or sold for the benefit of the person who is owed the money.

The legal case has not finished, but the Ontario Court of Appeal said the jet could be released if Inchatsavane delivered a letter of credit for US$3.5 million which would be held in trust in a bank until the court case was concluded.

This guarantee would ensure that if SG Air won the case money would be available to pay the company the money it was owed.

It is understood that the money has been deposited. However, instead of coming from Inchatsavane or the King personally, it is understood the money was paid by Swaziland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It this proves to be the case it would mean the people of Swaziland, rather than the King, who rules the kingdom as an absolute monarch, would be paying the King’s debt should he lose the court case.

Proof of letter of credit needs to be accepted by lawyers in the case before the jet can be released. Once released, the jet can be flown out of Canada and return to Swaziland. This is expected to be completed before Saturday.

The case of the unpaid debt returns to the Ontario Court of Appeal on 11 June 2015.

See also

SWAZI KING NOT ABOVE THE LAW IN CANADA
SWAZI KING IS ABOVE THE LAW, COURT TOLD
WHO PAID FOR SWAZI KING’S JET
REVEALED: COST OF FLYING KING’S JET
SWAZI MPs CONFUSED OVER KING’S JET
REVEALED: DETAILS OF KING’S NEW JET
KING'S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW
SWAZI KING ‘REFUSED TO PAY JET DEBT’
SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS
‘SWAZI KING TO BUY US$44m PRIVATE JET’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/04/swazi-king-to-buy-44m-private-jet.html

SWAZI KING NOT ABOVE LAW IN CANADA

The King of Swaziland tried to get a court in Canada to drop a case against him involving an alleged unpaid debt of US$3.5 million because he was a head of state.

But the court in Ontario dismissed his plea and the case went ahead.

The case would not have been allowed to take place in Swaziland, because King Mswati III, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is above the law. Both the Swaziland Constitution and a directive from Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, who was appointed by the King, give the monarch immunity from any lawsuit in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him and this applies also to any claims made indirectly against the King.

The case in Ontario, Canada, involves a Swazi company called Inchatsavane, which has King Mswati as its sole shareholder. It is alleged that Inchatsavane owes a company called SG Air US$3.5 million for the cost of refurbishments made to the King’s private jet. The legal owner of the jet is Inchatsavane. 

The plane has been attached for unpaid debts by the courts in Canada since January 2015.

A Canadian newspaper, Embassy News, reported that lawyers for the King’s company Inchatsavane claimed in court it was ‘entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of any Canadian court’ under the State Immunity Act.

The newspaper reported the court concluded that the case was about commercial activity rather than the King’s role as a head of state and was not covered by the Act.

The case is continuing in the Ontario Court of Appeal and the next hearing is scheduled for 11June 2015.

See also

SWAZI KING IS ABOVE THE LAW
WHO PAID FOR SWAZI KING’S JET
REVEALED: COST OF FLYING KING’S JET
SWAZI MPs CONFUSED OVER KING’S JET
REVEALED: DETAILS OF KING’S NEW JET
KING'S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW
SWAZI KING ‘REFUSED TO PAY JET DEBT’
SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS
‘SWAZI KING TO BUY US$44m PRIVATE JET’
http://swazimedia.blogspot.com/2015/04/swazi-king-to-buy-44m-private-jet.html

SWAZI COURT WAITS FOR KING’S ORDER

Swaziland’s Chief Justice dismissed an attempt by the kingdom’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to arrest a cabinet minister because King Mswati had not given his permission.

CJ Michael Ramodibedi dismissed an application in the High Court by the ACC for an arrest warrant and a search warrant against Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Sibusiso Shongwe on Monday (13 April 2015) because ‘an arrest cannot be done against His Majesty’s sitting minister without proper clearance’.
 
He also ordered that no other judge in Swaziland should deal with the matter.

In Swaziland, King Mswati III rules as an absolute monarch and he hand-picks all government ministers. 

If the court had issued an arrest warrant it would have been seen as a criticism of the King’s ability to choose suitable people for ministerial office.

The Chief Justice, who was also appointed by King Mswati, will only act in the case on the instructions of the King.

The ACC alleged that in December 2014 a total of E2 million (US$200,000) cash was deposited into the minister’s law firm’s trust account. The ACC wrote to Shongwe to ask where the money came from but he did not respond.

The ACC also alleged that E1.3 million of the money had been disbursed from the account. 

In a letter to the ACC, Shongwe said the money was being held on trust for a client of his law firm.

He also alleged in the letter that the Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini was trying to ruin his reputation and the PM had threatened at a Cabinet meeting that he would kill him. 

The ACC allegations Shongwe remain unproved.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

SWAZI KING ABOVE THE LAW, COURT TOLD

King Mswati III of Swaziland enters into business contracts which he does not honour and it is impossible to get him to do so because he is above the law in his own kingdom.

That is the picture that is emerging in a court in Ontario, Canada, where the King’s personal luxury jet has been impounded in a business dispute over an alleged unpaid bill of US$3.5 million.

The King’s jet was attached by the court in Canada in January 2015 while it was in Goderich, Ontario, for routine maintenance. It has been held ever since.

Attachment is a legal process by which a court of law, at the request of a person who is owed money, requires property owned by the person who owes the money to be transferred to the person who is owed the money, or sold for the benefit of the person who is owed the money.

SG Air Leasing, the company allegedly owed the money, told the Ontario Court of Appeal on 9 April 2015 that the jet had to be attached and the case had to be resolved outside of Swaziland because no court in Swaziland would hear a case against the King.

In papers presented to the court, King Mswati was described as an ‘absolute monarch’.

The dispute involves the cost of renovating the King’s McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as an MD-87) in 2012. The Ontario Court of Appeal was told that SG Air paid more than US$4.4 million for repairs and modifications to the jet. The jet itself had cost US$9.5 million

SG Air said it paid the costs on behalf of Inchatsavane, a company described as a ‘shell corporation’ set up by King Mswati to purchase the jet. King Mswati was described as Inchatsavane’s ‘sole shareholder’.

SG Air said the arrangement was for Inchatsavane to repay it the money spent on repairs and modifications. When the King failed to pay, private negotiations took place and allegedly the King agreed to pay US$3.5 million in ‘full and final settlement’ of the debt.

When the King also failed to pay this money, SG Air successfully applied for the courts in Canada to attach the jet and this was done on 13 January 2015.

The Court of Appeal was told that under s11 of the Swaziland Constitution the King was immune from any suit or legal process ‘in any cause in respect of all things done or omitted to be done by him’.

The Constitution was further reinforced by an explicit practice directive issued by the Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi on 16 June 2011 which stated that immunity applied for any claims made indirectly against the King. 

SG Air said in court papers said it saw ‘no prospect of any foreign judgement obtained against HMK [His Majesty the King] or Inchatsavane being enforced by a court in Swaziland’.

The King’s representatives asked the court to release the jet.

SG Air said in court papers that if the jet was ready for flight and if it was released it would ‘depart immediately and SG Air will have no prospect of enforcing a Canadian judgement against Inchatsavane in Swaziland’.

The jet remains in Canada and the case continues in the Court of Appeal. A further hearing is anticipated in May 2015. 

See also

WHO PAID FOR SWAZI KING’S JET
REVEALED: COST OF FLYING KING’S JET
SWAZI MPs CONFUSED OVER KING’S JET
REVEALED: DETAILS OF KING’S NEW JET
KING'S COMPANY AT CENTRE OF JET ROW
SWAZI KING ‘REFUSED TO PAY JET DEBT’
SWAZI KING’S JET HELD FOR UNPAID DEBTS
‘SWAZI KING TO BUY US$44m PRIVATE JET’

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

SWAZI DEMOCRACY RALLY ABANDONED

Prodemocracy activities in Swaziland to mark the 12 April anniversary of the Royal decree that turned the country from a democracy to a kingdom ruled by an autocratic monarch were abandoned at the weekend amid fears that police would attack participants.

The US-based Solidarity Centre reported, ‘Swaziland’s union movement cancelled a planned rally over the weekend after concerns the police would break up the gathering as they have multiple times in the past several weeks. In February and March, large numbers of police disbanded meetings of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), injuring at least one union leader.

‘Two weeks ago, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) gathered for a prayer service, when a large number of police showed up and sought to disrupt the event, physically injuring the union’s secretary general in the process, according to union leaders. Union members refused to be intimidated and carried on their service, say union leaders, adding that the government is increasingly prohibiting workers from meeting or publicly speaking out.’

Sunday 12 April 2015 marked the 42nd anniversary of the day in 1973 King Sobhuza II told his subjects, ‘I have assumed supreme power in the Kingdom of Swaziland and that all Legislative, Executive and Judicial power is vested in myself.’

He repealed the Swaziland constitution that had been in effect since independence from Great Britain in 1968 and said that any laws in the kingdom could be changed so that they would conform to his decree and any other decrees he might make in the future.

The decree has never been properly repealed, making the state of emergency the longest in African history.

According to the Swaziland United Democratic Front, one of the more vocal opposition groups on Swaziland, ‘The decree criminalised political activity, saw the banning of political parties and the introduction of a system of governance benefitting a few elites and their cronies; all at the expense of the majority of Swazi’s who continue to languish in poverty, underdevelopment and perpetual neglect.’

In recent years the 12 April anniversary has been met with street protests and other demonstrations.

In 2014, police illegally abducted prodemocracy leaders and drove them up to 30 kilometres away, and dumped them to prevent them taking part in a meeting calling for freedom in the kingdom.

Police staged roadblocks on all major roads leading to Swaziland’s main commercial city, Manzini, where protests were to be held. They also physically blocked halls to prevent meetings taking place.  Earlier in the day police had announced on state radio that meetings would not be allowed to take place.

In 2012, four days of public protest were planned by trade unions and other prodemocracy organisations. They were brutally suppressed by police and state forces and had to be abandoned.

In 2011, a group using Facebook, called for an uprising to depose the present King, Mswati III. State forces took this call seriously and many prodemocracy leaders were arrested. Police and security forces prevented people from travelling into towns and cities to take part in demonstrations. Again, the protests were abandoned.

See also

SWAZILAND ‘BECOMING MILITARY STATE’

KING’S AIRPORT MISSES TARGET BY A MILE

Only 194 passengers a day on average have used Swaziland’s new US$250 million King Mswati III Airport since commercial flights started in October 2014, official figures have revealed. 

If the average continues over a full year the airport is likely to reach only 23 percent of the 300,000 passengers needed for it to be able to breakeven financially.

That shortfall amounts to 230,000 passengers per year.

In the first four months of its operation since October 2014, the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, saw 11,388 passengers arrive and 11,952 depart. If these figures remain consistent across a full year a total of 70,020 passengers would have used the airport. This total is in line with the 60,000 to 70,000 passengers per year that used the Matsapha Airport, which King Mswati III Airport replaced.

According to official Swazi Government figures, King Mswati III Airport needs at least 300,000 passengers per year to breakeven financially.

The airport opened in March 2014 but only received its first commercial flights the following October. The only airline to use the airport has been the part-government-controlled Swaziland Airlink. No other airline has said it will use KMIII which was built in a wilderness about 70km from the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.

In October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve. The airport was built on the instruction of King Mswati who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. No needs analysis was completed before building began.

The Airport took more than 10 years to build and opened at least four years behind schedule. 

In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said the airport should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. The full cost of the airport is not known, but estimates have put it at E2.5 billion (US$250 million). 

About seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes less than US$2 per day, three in ten are so hungry they are medically diagnosed as malnourished and the kingdom has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. 

In an analysis of the airport’s future, published in March 2014, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) said there were still many serious questions about the sustainability of the airport including, ‘how will it lure additional airlines to use its services, how will it compete with the airports in Johannesburg and Maputo, and will it ever get close to its full capacity of 360,000 passengers each year - which is more than five times as many as currently used by the existing airport at Matsapha’.

The passenger figures were released by the Swaziland Tourism Authority and published in the Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati. 

According to the newspaper, ‘On average, arrivals at KMIII International Airport have been averaging over 1,000 [per month] since it started operating; 1,698 in October, 1,693 in November and 1,405 in December while outbound passengers recorded were 587 in October, 826 in November and 401 in December.’

It added, ‘According to data compiled by the Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) in collaboration with the Department of Immigration, in January [2015] an unprecedented 10,138 passengers left Swaziland through KMIII while 6,592 arrivals were recorded.’ 

The newspaper, which was called a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a report on media freedom in the kingdom, gave no explanation for the apparent nine-fold increase in passenger numbers in a single month between December 2014 and January 2015.

See also

PROOF: KING’S AIRPORT POINTLESS
AIRPORT MOVE WILL ‘BANKRUPT AIRLINK’