Swaziland Overview

Published by Swazi Review of Commerce & Industry (Pty) Ltd

Transport

On 30 September and watched by a throng of officials, dignitaries, media representatives and well-wishers, a Swaziland Airlink passenger jet took off from King Mswati III International Airport which thereby became the country’s direct-flight gateway to global aviation for tourism and trade. The E3-billion facility at Sikhuphe in the northeast had begun the final countdown to its Red-Letter Day some 10 months earlier.

That was the announcement on 1 December 2013 by Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) www.swacaa.co.sz Director-General, Solomon Dube, that KM III (as the new airport is known locally) had been declared fully operational. This led, on 7 March 2014, to the facility being commissioned by its royal namesake during a gala ceremony which featured traditional and modern Swazi music and dance as well as a gigantic pyrotechnics display. The occasion was attended by specially invited guests including ambassadors and UN representatives, along with thousands of Swazis who flocked to Sikhuphe from points all around the country.

SWACAA’s D-G said during these proceedings that KM III was “fully-licensed, all the necessary paperwork has been signed and endorsed”. He noted that the presence of International Civil Aviation Organization Regional Director, Meshesha Belayneh, also evidenced that everything was in order. With SWACAA poised at the time to be fully responsible for the efficient and effective operating of the new airport, Dube said that the Authority was ready as an entity to take up the task: “We have well trained and equally competent staff that will ensure the smooth running of the facility.” SWACAA subsequently moved its headquarters to KM III from Matsapha Airport which is now dedicated to royal, military and flight-school purposes.

In his 2014/15 Budget Speech at the beginning of the year, Finance Minister Martin Dlamini allocated E119-million towards the completion of all remaining essential works at KM III. He also used the occasion to tell Parliament and the nation that Memoranda of Understanding and Air Service Agreements had been reviewed and signed with a number of countries including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. The SWACAA D-G built on this by declaring:

One of SWACAA’s stated objectives is for KM III to become an aircraft mechanical depot that provides services such as fuselage and chassis maintenance. Work of this nature involves repairing electrical wiring and fabricating, calibrating and installing a variety of fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft elements. These include circuitry, mechanical components, moveable blades and metal or composite structural components. Responsibilities also involve the testing of mechanical aircraft components for anomalies, as well as assisting in the selection and procurement of tools, equipment and parts and accompanying flight crews to perform in-flight adjustments. 
For departing and arriving passengers, clearly branded shuttle-buses now operate between KM III and the following designated points:

  • Mbabane - New Mall
  • Ezulwini - Corner Plaza and The Gables Shopping Complex
  • Matsapha - Mahhala Shopping Complex
  • Manzini - The George Hotel

REACTIONS

Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) CEO, Eric Maseko, said that his organization had been eagerly awaiting the day it could include KM III in its marketing strategy. The facility will through direct flights provide easy access to the kingdom, he said, and allow the STA to create packages that can be sold directly to consumers. Furthermore, KM III will act as a catalyst for long-haul travel as a result of reduced airfares and thereby accelerate regional initiatives as it becomes a gateway to neighbouring countries and vice versa.

This sentiment was echoed by the Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC) Director of Business Development and Commercial Affairs, Julius Mkhatshwa. He pointed out that KM III’s location in the kingdom’s northeast quadrant was not only significantly closer to two prime SNTC sites than Matsapha Airport, but similarly more potentially appealing to holidaymakers travelling to/from South Africa’s Kruger National Park and/or the beaches of Mozambique. (The activities of the STA and SNTC are detailed in Tourism.)

The Corporate Affairs Manager of Swazi MTN, Mpumelelo Makhubu, described KM III as an essential infrastructural investment for accelerating economic development in the kingdom. He said that having commissioned a new base station in 2013 to support mobile communication requirements in and around Sikhuphe, the service provider intended building a second base station during 2014 to further improve the area’s network capacity and quality: “Our mobile services are an important enabler of economic development and we are confident that our network investments will support the nation’s realisation of Vision 2022.”

Swazi Secrets produces in a factory situated nearby KM III a range of world-renowned, indigenous cosmetic products which are exported to South Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia: the company’s Sales Manager, Khulile Dlamini, said that not only will the airport enable consignments to be sent directly to their allotted destinations, but its close proximity to the Swazi Secrets manufacturing base and onsite shop will also make it easier to market factory tours to holidaymakers, business travellers and even casual sightseers.

ACHIEVING THE GOAL

During his 2014/15 Budget Speech, Finance Minister Martin Dlamini disclosed that government had finalised a 25-year Transportation Master Plan to guide investment decisions in the sector to help achieve the nation’s vision of attaining developed-country status by 2022. He said that in addition to pursuing the development of KM III into a world-class facility, the main focus would also comprise the continued development of Swaziland’s railway infrastructure and road network.

STEEL WHEELS

Construction of the approximately E17-billion, 146 km rail-link between Lothair in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province and Sidvokodvo in central Swaziland is foreseen to commence during 2015. An announcement to this effect was made in late May 2014 at the Southern African Railways Association (SARA) Conference and Exhibition in Johannesburg by conference chairperson and Swaziland Railway (SR) www.swazirail.co.sz CEO, Stephenson Ngubane. The Swaziland Rail Link Project, which is a joint undertaking between SR and South Africa’s Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), was showcased at the SARA event to potential investors and suppliers.

Referring to the feasibility study which has been underway since the initiative was formalised and then cemented by means of two respective Memoranda of Understanding signed in 2012, the SR CEO said that the various aspects of the investigation were reaching an advanced stage and that physical progress could be expected in the coming review period. Early 2014 saw government allocate E88-million towards the completion of the feasibility study, the three primary focal points of which are:

  • addressing land acquisition and the relocation of affected stakeholders
  • environmental impact assessments
  • the design of the line and its construction cost estimates

SR/TFR jointly stated that as they engage stakeholders along the proposed route they are very encouraged by the cooperation they continue to receive from the affected communities in South Africa and Swaziland. It is foreseen that the project will have significant socioeconomic benefits during the construction and operational phases. SR/TFR anticipate:

  • 2 700 construction-related jobs being created in Swaziland and 3 400 in South Africa
  • the long-term employment impact arising from train operations and maintenance extending to an estimated 300 jobs in Swaziland and 500 in South Africa

TFR has for decades moved the output of South Africa’s coalfields to the giant terminal at Richards Bay via its 68-million-tonnes-per-annum line through rural KwaZulu-Natal. Some 15-million of those tonnes are however taken up by general freight, which TFR wants to send via Swaziland to appease its coal-exporter clients, especially as new mines will soon be opening in the Waterberg region of Mpumalanga. The new line from Lothair is expected to have an initial capacity of 15-million tonnes per annum and will join SR’s existing network at Sidvokodvo: from the T-junction about 40 km further east, at Phuzumoya, the freight trains can head south to Richards Bay and Durban or northeast into Mozambique and Maputo harbour via the Goba Corridor.

In addition to freeing capacity on TFR’s coal line, key objectives of the project include enhancing regional integration and, of great potential benefit to Swaziland, providing viable connections for rail freight to head west from the kingdom to large market-centres such as Johannesburg, Midrand and Pretoria. Currently, the sole direct connection with South Africa’s economic heartland is via a 370 km road network: the existing rail routes – via the KwaZulu-Natal or Limpopo provinces - are circuitous and long and thus cost-prohibitive. The Swaziland Rail Link Project’s targeted completion date is 2017.

Revisiting History
The fledgling Swaziland Railway was officially launched in 1964 with the sole purpose of transporting a single commodity – iron ore – from Ngwenya on the kingdom’s westernmost flank to the Mozambique border and on to Maputo harbour for shipping to Japan. After the ore ran out and the mine closed in 1977, the disused line from Ngwenya to Mpaka via Sidvokodvo fell into disrepair before being dismantled in 1990 for use as spare parts.

In 2011, Salgaocar brought new technology to Swaziland and began reclaiming iron ore from the old mine dumps: SR was soon once again carrying the raw material to Maputo for shipping overseas (this time to China), but only after it had been trucked from Ngwenya to the Mpaka railhead. The heavy vehicles have subsequently been damaging the roads along their route and even though government is receiving a wear-and-tear levy from the exporter, in mid-2014 His Majesty King Mswati III decreed that an investigation into the merits of reopening the original Ngwenya-Sidvokodvo-Mpaka rail link should be launched.

On 1 August a SR spokesperson duly announced via the local news media that a feasibility study into refurbishing the iron ore corridor was in progress. The first step, he said, was to establish exactly what needed to be done in order to re-open the old line; this would enable a determination of the projected costs, whereupon – should the project be deemed viable – SR will engage with those communities whose habitation has over the years encroached upon the railway line’s demarcated safety reserve. The feasibility study was ongoing at the end of this review period.

Golden Occasion
With SR celebrating its 50th Anniversary during 2014, a special gathering at Mpaka railhead on 3 October watched HM King Mswati III unveil SR’s two brand new diesel-electric locomotives worth about E20-million each - the first to be owned by the company after a history of hiring from its regional counterparts in order to move cargo around. His Majesty described as a very important day that on which he had the great pleasure to disclose SR’s purchasing of its own trains to coincide with its first half-century in operation.

The monarch said that the dual-landmark was evidence of both the public enterprise’s viability and its sustained growth and evolution over the years. He said that because of SR’s immense progress since the era of hiring coal-fired locomotives he was optimistic about witnessing yet further expansion going forward, particularly in light of the company now having two ultra-modern locomotives of its own and the part it is playing in the unfolding Swaziland Rail Link Project. His Majesty concluded his keynote address by praising the SR Board, management and staff for being on the right path, keeping up the good work and making sure that they uphold the standards that were set by their predecessors in building the company. 

About Swaziland Railway
SR is a parastatal organization that provides transport services for import and export commodities as well as transit cargo. It bears ISO 9001:2008 certification and is considered one of the best railways in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in terms of transit time, reliability and predictability, with its 300 km of continuously-welded network linking Swaziland’s main industrial centres with the railway systems of South Africa, Mozambique and other SADC countries to the north.

SR moves a wide diversity of traffic averaging four million tonnes a year and its Matsapha Inland Clearance Depot (Dry Port) caters for the needs of importers/exporters by providing streamlined services that are time- and cost-effective. SR is committed to providing 24-hour technical and operational support to ensure the safe passage and transit of all commodities. Cargo is constantly monitored to ensure it reaches its final destination safely and on time.

HIGHWAYS & BYWAYS

Finance Minister Martin Dlamini revealed when announcing his budget allocations for 2014/15 that the World Economic Forum had ranked Swaziland’s road network among the top 50 in the world: this, he said, evidenced government’s oft-declared policy to ensure that there exists easy access across the country. Minister Dlamini stated that during the 2013/14 fiscal year the paved network was increased by 64 km to a total of 1 345 km, while access to rural communities was simultaneously improved through the Feeder Road Programme (FRP) attaining a total maintained network of 3 540 km by the end of the review period.

For 2014/15 he allocated E605-million to the construction and rehabilitation of the road network in various parts of the country: the sum included E15-million earmarked for the rehabilitation of rural roads under the FRP, which he said would help increase the productivity of rural smallholder farmers, stimulate economic activity and alleviate poverty in the rural areas where about 60 percent of the population resides. Prioritised to receive the remainder of the total allocation were:

  • KM III International Airport: link road/access road/interchange
  • Nhlangano to Sicunusa: road construction (co-financed with BADEA and OFID)
  • Bulembu to Pigg’s Peak: road upgrade
  • Kalanga to Big Bend: road designs
  • Mbabane to Manzini: highway reseal
  • Manzana to Dvokolwako: road upgrade (additional E33-million)
  • Rural roads: pilot programme upgrade to all-weather standard

Municipal initiatives
As first-quarter 2014 drew to a close the Municipal Council of Manzini, having just finished upgrading the industrial hub’s Northern Distributor Road at a cost of E14- million, announced that it had awarded two tenders totalling E12.5-million for the upgrading of yet more roads from gravel to high-grade bitumen standard and accompanied by the construction of storm-water drains and walkways, as well as road marking and erection of traffic signage. The pair of complementary initiatives were listed as:

  • Jacaranda Avenue to Cassia Road in Coates Valley, plus a portion of Woodmasters Road in Woodmasters Township. The 1.4 km undertaking worth E10.9-million was funded by central government as a Capital Improvement Project
  • About 200 metres of the lower portion of Woodmasters Road: E1.6-million, financed by the World Bank

Manzini Council PRO, Mathokoza Thwala, said that having upgraded more than 20 roads in the past eight years at a cost of tens of millions of Emalangeni, Council was pleased to be able to deliver these most recent projects in its quest to help Swaziland achieve its broad-scope Vision 2022. 

Mbabane Municipal Council announced in late October that it was spending almost E900 000 on giving the city centre a facelift. The stretch of roads – 300 metres in total - included in the upgrade were:

  • Mdzimba Avenue (above the bus rank)
  • Mahlokohla Road (leading into the city from the Engen traffic lights)

Public Information Officer (PIO), Gugulethu Hlophe, said that the project had been proposed by Mbabane residents together with Council when compiling the Integrated Development Plan, and that upgrading was also planned for the main feeder roads from residential areas into the city, for financial reasons to be worked on sequentially and once the city centre project had been completed:

  • Pine Valley Road (from the Golf Course bridge to the Mbandzeni/Lukhalo Roads intersection) – rehabilitation and the addition of a climbing lane.
  • Mantsholo Road
  • Ncoboza Road

Thereafter but presently still at the design stage, the PIO revealed, a lane will be added to Gwamile Road between the SBIS building and Pine Valley Road to alleviate traffic congestion coming into the city. Routine maintenance on road surfaces and drainage systems, both subjected to severe challenges by heavy rain during this reporting period, were said to be ongoing.

Ezulwini Municipal Council CEO, V Matsebula, said in mid-2014 when confirming two tenders totalling E10-million that the following initiatives were a necessity when considering the area’s exponential growth:

  • Widening the Midway-to-Mdoni road to two metres, constructing walkways and storm-water drains and erecting streetlights - total cost, E6-million
  • The construction of Msini Road within Medifarm Township at a cost of E4-million

The CEO stated that the projects were in furtherance of the municipality’s core service provision to the ratepayers of Ezulwini and evidence of its prompt response to the area’s ever-increasing needs.

HAULAGE, LOGISTICS & SUPPLY

Having passed the 50-year milestone as an industry principal in the kingdom, Cargo Carriers Swaziland www.cargocarriers.co.za acknowledged the country’s business community which has partnered it since 1961. In addition to the latter, it is the company’s ongoing relationship with the community, government, organized business and its employees that has enabled Cargo Carriers to further evolve in terms of value-add to all associated with it. Lateral business expansion into neighbouring countries is the result of the experience that employees gained with Swaziland as catalyst.

Cargo Carriers’ Sugar Division operates from two registered depots strategically placed in Swaziland (at Big Bend and Simunye) and transports some 1.2 million tonnes of cane per annum within the kingdom. The company currently operates a fleet of more than 30 specialised units and provides employment and training for more than 120 local people. The Sugar Division also provides selective logistics services within the sugar industry supply chain: these include infield loading and haulage, direct-to-mill and zone-to-mill cane haulage.

The company has committed itself to social responsibility and development by establishing joint-venture transportation and logistics businesses with small growers throughout the South African and Swazi sugar belts. In Swaziland, Lugubhu Carriers, established in 2004, is an acclaimed player for small grower logistics’ needs in the northern region and the ambition is to roll it out to the rest of the country. This demonstrates not only a strong commitment to corporate social investment, but also sound business logic for investment in the future of the industry.

Over the past 11 years Cargo Carriers has invested substantially in systems, software development and the development of logistical skills, and has thus transformed from purely a trucking company into a logistics and supply chain service provider, based on the experience and fundamentals of intelligent trucking.

As a company, Cargo Carriers Swaziland is committed to safety, health, environmental and quality issues. The company is ISO 9001:2000 and 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001 accredited. Accreditation and continual improvement and upgrading of these procedures and practices are likewise a vital cog in the wheel for Cargo Carriers’ business.

With Cargo Carriers’ track record of innovation, careful strategy and operational efficiency in the sugar industry, it has established itself as much more than a sugar transporter and is proud to be a stakeholder in Swaziland’s economy and its people.