e-Forum / Media Alert

Swaziland’s new airport – another side of the story (in pictures)

MISA-Swaziland | e-Forum
March 12 2014

Swaziland, a country of 1.2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, unveiled a new airport last week. However news agency AFP said the $280-million airport is “years away from being operational and has been dubbed a ‘white elephant’ by critics”.

During construction, which began 11 years ago, the airport was known as Sikhuphe Airport. At the opening on Friday 7 March its new name was revealed as King Mswati III International Airport.

King Mswati has ruled Swaziland since 1986.

AFP reported the $280-million cost is “equivalent to almost 10 percent of the impoverished mountain kingdom’s 2012 Gross Domestic Product”.

The article further noted: “Authorities in the sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy hope the airport will help attract tourism and foreign investment. But it has yet to be granted an operating licence by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and no airlines are expected to make use of the airport for years to come, prompting concerns about the viability of the project.”

Some of the more inconvenient facts pointed out by the AFP article were suppressed or glossed over by most of the Swazi media, which does not openly question or directly criticise the actions of the king or the monarchy. Most of the reports that were published gave exaggerated accounts of events.

“His Majesty King Mswati III had everyone in stitches of laughter yesterday when he humourously blasted critics of the new King Mswati III International Airport,” reported the nation’s only privately owned daily newspaper the Times of Swaziland.

“Exuding an extra-ordinary sense of humour and charisma, the King, who was visibly in a jovial mood, literally joked about the criticism that was levelled at the airport when it was at its infant construction stages.”

MISA-Swaziland’s e-Forum went along last Friday to document the opening.

"The new airport, built 70 kilometres (44 miles) away from the capital Mbabane, will eventually be able to handle 300 passengers per hour and its runway can accommodate jumbo jets, officials said." AFP

“The new airport, built 70 kilometres (44 miles) away from the capital Mbabane, will eventually be able to handle 300 passengers per hour and its runway can accommodate jumbo jets, officials said,” reported AFP

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Some school children got a lift to the event

Many people came for the opening

The opening of the airport was a popular event: cars queued as they got closer to the gates

Security officials with guns lined the entrance

Security officials with guns calmly mingled with interested bystanders

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Not everything was completed in time for the opening

Dignitaries arriving as local residents stroll in

Dignitaries arriving as local residents stroll in

Many people from the surrounding communities came for the airport's opening

Many people from the surrounding communities came for the airport’s opening

The arc at the entrance of the airport wasn't complete for the opening

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A security official giving directions to a resident in the car park

A security guard giving directions in the car park

A few cars got stuck in the muddy car park

A few cars got stuck in the muddy car park

The dance group before their performance

The dance group before their performance

Security in front of the VIP section

Security in front of the VIP section

Pre-speech entertainment

Pre-speech entertainment performing in front of the VIP guests

The pre-speech entertainment in the background

Security patrolling the area as pre-speech entertainers perform in the background.

Dignitaries arriving in the distance

Dignitaries arriving in the distance

The crowd waiting for the speeches to begin

The crowd waiting for the speeches to begin

Dignitaries arriving in the distance

Dignitaries arriving in the distance

Parachuters entertained the crowd in the lead up the the speeches

Parachuters entertained the crowd in the lead up to the speeches

The public section of the crowd waiting for the speeches to begin

The public section of the crowd waiting for the speeches to begin

King Mswati III International Airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe Airport

King Mswati III International Airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe Airport

The crowd listening to speeches

The crowd listening to speeches

Men in traditional gear salute the king as some youngsters talk amongst themselves

Men in traditional gear saluting the king’s speech as some youngsters talk amongst themselves

The crowd listening to the king's speech. "Exuding an extra-ordinary sense of humour and charisma, the King, who was visibly in a jovial mood, literally joked about the criticism that was levelled at the airport when it was at its infant construction stages," reported the nation's only privately owned daily newspaper the Times of Swaziland

The crowd listening to speeches

During the king's speech a large part of the audience left their seats to walk over the view the airport...

During the king’s speech a large part of the audience walked over to view the airport…

... but police told the people to go back to their seats, telling them they were not allowed to view the airport until the king had officially opened it

… but police told the people to go back to their seats, telling them they were not allowed to view the airport until the king had officially opened it

It was a hot day and speeches lasted most of the afternoon

It was a hot day and speeches lasted most of the afternoon. “The king said when the project started there were a lot of mixed feelings,” reported the Times of Swaziland

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