Swaziland has officially opened the newl King Mswati III International Airport. The newly constructed airport cost about $150 million and fulfills part of the country’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), says Percy Simelane, spokesman for the government.
The airport is also a component of King Mswati III's $1 billion millennium investment initiative which is aimed at boosting the country’s position as a tourist destination and serving as a gateway to Swaziland’s game parks.
The airport construction took longer than was expected but the government spokesman says, “It’s complete now, and we are happy that finally we have a modern airport. It comes after another huge water project called the Lower Usuthu Irrigation Project, which is benefiting thousands of people downstream.”
How will a new airport help the poor?
Opposition groups call the new airport the king’s “white elephant” pet project and argue its completion is unlikely to improve the lives of the poor citizens.
Critics also charge that the expense of airport construction was not a judicious use of scarce public resources for a government that always complains it is unable to increase public sector worker salaries. The government's detractors also argue that the funds could have been better used to improve hospitals and schools around the country.
Simelane disagrees, saying the airport will create jobs for Swazis. He says the government is encouraging public-private-partnerships to develop lands around the new airport to create jobs. "Already, people have been given free land to develop projects around the airport,” says Simelane.
Facing South Africa competition
A feasability study persuaded the government the bigger airport was necessary “particularly because we had a very small airport at Matsapha airport near Manzini, which did not have the range to take bigger aircraft,” says Simelane.
“That meant our cargo from all over the world was dropped in South Africa and we had to fetch it in trucks or the railway,” the government spokesman says.
The new airport will boost Swaziland tourism because the old airport in Matsapha could receive only regional aircraft. Tourists used to have to land in South Africa and take a bus or a train to get to Swaziland.
“We are not looking forward to a situation whereby we continue to go to South Africa by road or our tourists have to travel by road to [come] here.”
The airport will enable Swaziland to fairly compete with neighboring South Africa to attract international business investors, too, says Simelane. “We are going to compete with them as we have in sugar."
"We know how to market this airport, and it is going to be beneficial to us,” says Simelane.