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Thursday, 8 May 2014

KING MSWATI SNUBS HIS OWN AIRPORT

King Mswati III of Swaziland snubbed the newly-opened airport that bears his name and landed his private jet at the old Matsapha Airport on his return from a trip to Qatar.

The King opened the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, and widely regarded by his critics as a personal ‘vanity project’, in early March 2014, but since then no commercial airline has landed at the airport and none has agreed to use it in future.

King Mswati said the airport, which has been built in the wilderness of south-east Swaziland at a cost of at least E3 billion (US$300 million) was a ‘first-world’ facility.

Members of the public have been banned from visiting the airport for ‘security reasons’, according to the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA). SWACAA Director Solomon Dube said the King wanted people to stay away so the airport could remain in ‘sublime condition’.

No reason has been given by King Mswati why he did not use the new airport on his trip to Qatar.

However, there are doubts about whether the airport has a licence to operate. In late March 2014, after the King had opened the airport the Regional Director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Meshesha Belayneh, told the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in South Africa that Swaziland still needed to follow due process before the ICAO could issue a licence for the new airport.

The Swazi airport has been dubbed King Mswati’s ‘vanity project’ by critics. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The King has 13 palaces and a personal fortune once estimated by Forbes Magazine to be US$200 million. Meanwhile, seven in ten of his subjects live in abject poverty with an income of less than US$2 a day. Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world.

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