In 2003 construction of an international airport in Sikhuphe, Swaziland was initiated by King Mswati III, who rules the country as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. From its inception commentators warned that the new airport was a waste of resources, diverting funding away from vital projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. In contrast with the one in seven of the coutnry’s inhabitants living in abject poverty King Mswati III enjoyed a lavish lifestyle with 13 palaces, fleets of luxury cars and a private jet.
In March 2014, presiding over an expensive opening ceremony, King Mswati III unveiled the name of the new airport: King Mswati III International Airport. In the lead up to this event he had announced that a new town would be established to support the new airport, which would bring development to the surrounding communities, including Mbadlane, Hlane and Malindza. He proclaimed “After a radius of about five kilometres from the airport, urban structures will be constructed.” More than three years later, in October 2017, the Times of Swaziland reported that King Mswati III International Airport had ‘brought nothing but misery to hundreds of residents of Sikhuphe, in Malindza, where the airfield was constructed’. They had not received any compensation for their relocation, despite a consultant’s recommendation that a sum of approximately US$6 million be allocated for resettlement of 188 homesteads falling within the boundary of the so-called ‘airport city’.
There was a series of protests over impacts of airport and road construction and lack of compensation in 2021. In September, Malindza residents protested disruption of their water supply caused by construction of a road serving the airport, and demanded its restoration. They had been left struggling to access water to sustain their cultivation of vegetables and rearing of livestock after a dam was destroyed by Inyatsi, a firm with close connections to the government which was awarded construction contracts for King Mswati III International Airport along with a major highway connecting South Africa to Mozambique via the airport. In November a group of about 200 residents blocked Inyatsi’s trucks from entering the quarry near King Mswati III International Airport. It was their third protest in three months. In November 2021 some of the residents of Malindza who were displaced to make way for the project and whose houses were damaged by blasting works during construction – of the airport and road leading to it – were still demanding compensation. Blasting had caused cracks in their houses. A group of residents, mainly women, protested for almost a week and camped in the bushes. They had lost patience after struggling for compensation for almost 20 years.