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Thursday, 21 April 2011


How humiliating! King Mswati III's Government is so broke it can’t pay contractors building the Sikhuphe International Airport. So it’s got Taiwan to pay the bill instead.

Today (21 April 2011), it is reported that Peter Tsai, the Taiwanese Ambassador in Swaziland, handed over a cheque for E4 182 626 (US $ 597 518.65) to meet the bill from one company.

It is no coincidence that the company in question, CECI, is a construction company from Taiwan. So, the Taiwanese Government is in effect making sure its own people get paid, because it can’t trust the Swazi Government to do it.

CECI was responsible for the terminal building and cargo building at the airport.

Meanwhile, the fantasies about Sikhuphe, a vanity project for King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, are being created thick and fast.

Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, has given an ‘assurance’ that Sikhuphe International will be opened before the end of this year (2011). Don’t bet on it. We were told that it would be open in March 2010 and then June 2010 and so on.

Prince Hlangusemphi, Minister of Economic Planning and Development, was more honest last month (March 2011), when he told members of parliament that because of the financial meltdown in the kingdom, he could not guarantee that the project would be completed.

It has been estimated that Sikhuphe could cost US$1 billion by the time it is finished.

There is also a lot of nonsense being talked about how the airport will be used when (if, surely) it opens.

When he made the cheque presentation Tsai reportedly said Swaziland ‘could attain the position of a leading tourist destination and transport hub in the region’. No it can’t. As I’ve reported before (here) there is no evidence for the potential of significant increases in tourism in Swaziland. And anyway, the majority of tourists come from South Africa or Mozambique and they don’t fly, they come by road.

Tsai also reportedly said, ‘Upon completion, we have confidence that Sikhuphe International Airport will operate at the level of international hubs with the capacity to handle aircraft and service flights to any destination in the world.’ Again, not true.

According to its own figures, Sikhuphe is expected to handle 300,000 passengers a year. That’s in contrast to the South Africa, Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, less than an hour’s flight from Sikhuphe, that caters for more than 17 million passengers each year. Cape Town International Airport recorded passenger numbers of 7.8 million in 2008-2009. Blomfentein Airport handled 408,000 passengers in 2008-2009.

Sikhuphe simply isn’t in the same league as these other airports.

The Times of Swaziland reported today that the airport could also be used to transport cargo. It said this as if it were a new announcement. Why does the newspaper think a cargo building was erected?

The newspaper reports Sabelo Dlamini, Marketing and Corporate Affairs Manager at the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), saying beef was one of the products that could be exported to other countries using the newly-built airport.

Apart from the fact that a great deal of Swazi beef is of such low quality it isn’t allowed by international rules to be exported, there is also the question of cost. Transporting beef by air would probably make it the most expensive meat on the continent.

But Sabelo Dlamini is undaunted. He claimed (unspecified) international businesses wanted to open abattoirs in the Swaziland. I doubt that the availability of an airport will make much difference to their decision (if it ever happens).

The Times also quoted him saying they were about to finish talks with Qatar, which is willing to use Sikhuphe for both cargo and passengers. ‘Discussions are at a high level with that country’s government and we are paving a way to solicit a route to connect the two countries,’ he said.

And what exactly does Qatar want to export to Swaziland that it has to use air transport? I don’t know either, but if Dlamini is telling the truth we’ll find out soon enough.

The fantasies don’t end there. Yesterday, the Times reported that three ‘low budget’ airlines wanted to set up at Sikhuphe.

It quoted Sabelo Dlamini (again) saying that having low-cost airlines would make it possible for people to fly cheaply.

These airlines (if indeed they exist) wanted to fly to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, he said.

He reckoned that hawkers from Mozambique who come to Swaziland to trade would use the airlines to go back home. I don’t know how many hawkers from Mozambique there are in Swaziland but I suspect of you rounded them all up together you’d be hard pressed to fill more than a couple of planes. And the cost of a ticket would wipe out all the profits they’d made during their stay.

I get the feeling that those who are ‘talking up’ Sikhuphe are making it up as they go along.

So far all they give us are fantasies. But one thing we do know is true. Earlier this month, Airlink Swaziland, the airline that connects Matsapha airport with Johannesburg, said it definitely did not want to move to Sikhuphe when it opened. Why? Because it’s in the middle of nowhere.

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