This picture is of King Mswati III’s vanity project, Sikhuphe International Airport.
No really. I’m not joking.
The airport site is deserted except for the donkeys and cattle that roam the runway.
All building appears stopped and the place looks like a building site in mothballs – there’s no sign of activity, or even recent activity, just cattle and donkeys roaming around.
The building shell of the main terminal looks impressive from the outside, but when you peer in through the windows you see the inside is empty. It’s completely unfinished and it’s anyone’s guess how long it would take (and how much it would cost) before it’s ready to open.
So what’s going on? In a controversial move last November (2010), the Swaziland Government asked for and was granted an extra E350 million (about US$50 million) for the airport. Contractors had downed tools and gone home because they hadn’t been paid. They’d start work again, they said, once the cheques had cleared.
The Swazi Parliament approved the payments, so why hasn’t work resumed? My suspicion is that although the money was approved, the government is so broke it doesn’t actually have the money to pay the contractors.
So far the budget for Sikhuphe is more than E1 billion for this year alone. One informed insider estimated that by the time the airport opened it would have cost $US1 billion (E7.2 billion). Please, please, let that be an exaggeration.
The pointless airport is situated in a wilderness on the edge of the Hlane National Park. It’s 90 minutes from Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital and an hour from Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial centre, where the present airport is.
Sikhuphe has no purpose, except as a vanity project for the king. He has deluded himself (and his stooges) that Swaziland is close to becoming a ‘first world’ nation and is rolling in cash.
The access road to the airport from the main Manzini to Siteki road is certainly magnificent. It’s 9km-long and as flat as a pool table. It is lined with streetlamps every 40 metres. But it carries no traffic.
It is the perfect venue for anyone wanting to stage a drag race – the road to nowhere.