Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday defended the planned construction of an international airport in the southern province of Gaza, on the grounds that this would have an enormous potential for stimulating economic development, particularly in tourism.
Speaking in the locality of Poiombo, in the Gaza district of Chonguene, Nyusi said that tourism in Gaza could take a leap forward, if there was an international airport in the province.
The site for the new airport is about 17 kilometres from the provincial capital, Xai-Xai. The runway will be 1,600 metres long, and the entire airport is budgeted at 50 million US dollars.
“Just imagine the tourism that is being born here, in Massingir”, said Nyusi, cited by Mozambique Television (TVM). “Less than a month ago I was with some international investors who want to transform this area into a major southern African tourist zone”. Massingir is a district in the northern part of Gaza, which contains the Limpopo National Park, and borders on South Africa's Kruger Park.
Nyusi added that an airport in the Xai-Xai area is also required so that aircraft have somewhere to land in the event of floods in the Limpopo valley.
“When we had floods here, there was nowhere for aircraft bringing supplies to land”, he said. “They tried to go to the aerodrome at Chokwe, but that was also under water. Inhambane was too far away. We have to think big and think differently”.
He added that a Gaza airport would be an alternative for Maputo-bound planes to land, in the event of bad weather over the capital, rather than being forced to fly on to an airport in South Africa.
Xai-Xai is the only provincial capital in Mozambique that does not have an airport. Critics of the scheme point out that Xai-Xai is only about three hours drive from Maputo, and doubt that there is any real demand for a new airport.
The last new airport built in Mozambique was at the northern port city of Nacala, inaugurated by Nyusi's predecessor Armando Guebuza in late 2014. This was billed as an international airport, which could act as a hub connected southern Africa to the Middle East and Asia. But to date the only aircraft that land at Nacala are domestic flights operated by Mozambique Airlines (LAM), and it is at risk of becoming a highly expensive white elephant.