A group of locals in the North West capital in Mafikeng has taken up the fight to get back the licence of the local Mmabatho International Airport in an effort to fast-track plans to turn the precinct into a cargo hub.
The civil society group, aptly named the “Mahikeng International Airport Licence Crisis Committee”, is up against longstanding efforts to retrieve the licence, which had apparently been operational at the Pilanesberg International Airport in Rustenburg.
Crisis committee spokesperson Mpho Sehularo said that the call for the return of this licence was based on the macroeconomic plans for the capital and the province that were already on the table.
Central to it were efforts to turn the airport into a cargo hub surrounded by scores of factories that would revive the economy of the province, thus creating jobs and eradicating poverty.
“There are many investors who have expressed an interest to invest provided that the airport has an international licence for obvious reasons,” Sehularo said.
Questions sent to Pilanesberg International Airport manager Mogomotsi Padi last week were not answered. The North West department of transport and community safety also failed to provide clarity on the licence debacle.
However, departmental insiders said the the licence was used for Pilanesberg to maximise tourism and other economic benefits during the Fifa 2010 World Cup.
City Press learnt that the Mahikeng Local Municipality had, as part of the new plans for the hub, already passed a resolution to rename the Mafikeng International Airport as GD Montshioa Airport, in honour of the late struggle icon and local royalty, George Dick Montshioa.
A government insider, who could not be named because they did not have authority to speak to the media, said the airport in Mahikeng had already complied with some of the required regulations for a licence including safety and emergency measures.
“What we are waiting for now is for the department of home affairs to advise on how it plans to staff its component at the airport, as well as the South African Revenue Service,” said the person.
A management company had also been appointed to take over the running of the new airport operations upon the reinstatement of the licence.
In February last year former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo said the airport precinct would be turned into an international cargo hub meant to boost and revitalise the economy of the province.
Mahumapelo also said he was disappointed at “the unimpressive progress registered”.
“The department of community safety and transport management has covered much ground in addressing all compliance issues as part of accelerating the process to acquire the international airport status for Mahikeng Airport.
“We hope that the national government can move fast on this matter,” he said.
Sehularo said “successive provincial administrations up to the fifth administration, vowed to return the international licence to where it belonged as part of the revival of the economy of the capital Mahikeng, and the whole province”.
He said the planned “Mmabatho Industrial Development Zone was the supposed vehicle that would drive the industrialisation project around the airport”.
However, he alleged, certain officials – including some in the provincial government – were using the opportunity to cash in in their private capacity. He did not name the officials.
“At this moment, the department of trade and industry is unable to proclaim Mahikeng as a Special Economic Zone because it would not make economic sense to do so in the absence of the international licence.”
He said: “It has since come to light that the provincial and national politicians as well as government officials in both spheres, have their personal interests all over the show.”
Sehularo said it was incorrect that “these interests be allowed to supersede and to be more important than those of the downtrodden masses and this is exactly what is preventing the economic development of the capital city, the district and the province”.
He said that according to their information, as far back as 2008 Cabinet had taken a resolution to return the international licence to Mahikeng Airport and “the implementation of this resolution is perpetually sabotaged by the selfish and greedy personal interests”.
He said the provincial government had also appointed an airport management company to manage and facilitate Mafikeng Airport’s revival, which began hiring staff in anticipation of the airport licence being transferred back to Mafikeng.
He said the group was unearthing evidence in that regard, which it intended to expose once its investigations were concluded.
“This is another form of state capture that must definitely be investigated by the Zondo commission of inquiry,” he said.