Government officials in the Eastern Cape have told President Jacob Zuma that while they are working hard to speed up the improvement of poor infrastructure at Mthatha airport, they will need about R300 million to complete the work.
Zuma was in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape yesterday, where he wrapped up a two-day visit to the province. He was visiting key infrastructure projects underway in various parts of the King Sabata Dalindyebo (KSD) Municipality, as well as the multimillion Nelson Mandela Bridge, which is under construction and is set to be completed by August next year, the state BuaNews reports.
Both Zuma and Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet agreed that the development of the Mthatha airport, which serves as a critical link between the city and the eastern part of the province and OR Tambo International Airport, was necessary. Mthatha is the economic hub of the KSD region and one of the biggest municipalities in the province. The fact that it is home to former President Nelson Mandela has led to thousands of tourists flocking to the town every year. The area incorporates large portions of the former Transkei and is the poorest district in the Eastern Cape in all poverty measures.
Zuma said funding of the airport should be prioritised if major economic changes were to be expected in the area. “Something really needs to be done about this airport … we all agree that if we are to develop the Eastern Cape province to what we want it to be, this airport has got to be central to that development,” Zuma said after touring the facility. The airport currently only has space for one aircraft to park at any given moment.
It also emerged during Zuma’s visit that a lack of leadership and inadequate infrastructure were some of the reasons behind the slow development in the airport. “This airport is critical and all we want is for the leadership of the province to ensure that the problems here are addressed. Make a case and it can be looked at,” said Zuma.
Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin said his department was looking into a possibility of roping in Airports Company South Africa to speed up the process of fixing up the airport. “We really feel that this airport is important to the economy of the Eastern Cape and indeed the country, and so we feel ACSA should play an assisting role in this regard,” Cronin said.
Other ways of improving development include attracting other airlines to the airport such as the new entrant in the market, SANTACO Airlines, which targets low income passengers. SANTACO Airlines is a commercial airline run by the South African National Taxi Council. “If we can get SANTACO for instance to operate here, that will provide some kind of competition, which is good for the airport and the consumer because at the moment, we only have SA Airlink operating from here,” said Acting Head of Transport in the province, Linda Salie.