Two years ago, the former premier of Limpopo, Ngoako Ramathlodi, announced his approval of an international licence for Eastgate Airport, which is situated near Hoedspruit and the Orpen Gate to the Kruger National Park. Ramathlodi made the announcement at the opening of the provincial legislature on February 20, 2003.
He said the logistical needs that would be required would be discussed with the relevant departments. Ben Mohale, deputy director general of the Limpopo Government and head of the department of Transport at the time said a project plan would be implemented within eight months.
Nothing has come of it. In fact, Eastgate Airport has had to deal with stricter negotiations with the Departments of Treasury and Defence around renewing its contracts to secure land and facility use for the next five years. Minimum landing and approach fees have been introduced as well as penalty fees for landing after hours to name but some of the harsh conditions that have made it difficult to maintain competitiveness with other airport companies in the region.
When asked about the international licence about three weeks ago, Ben Mohale told the Kruger Park Times that Markus Mathombeni has been appointed in the department of transport to deal specifically with airports in Limpopo. He also said that a feasibility study will probably be done with regard to the Eastgate International licence issue.
The question is why is another feasibility study necessary when he indicated in 2003 that the feasibility study they did then suggested that 6700 direct and indirect jobs would be created? Rodwell Mnisi, municipal manager of Bohlabela District Municipality, urged delegates attending the first Bohlabela Economic Summit at Swadini, from March 2 to 3, 2005 to take this matter up with the provincial government.
Picking up from a presentation made by Mike Gardner, well-known tourism strategist and contributor to the Limpopo Growth and Development Strategy, where he described the present situation with Eastgate as a “shut-window”, Mnisi stressed Eastgate Airport must attain its international status as promised.
The tourism and agricultural sectors have been identified as competitive advantages and economic growth points for the region and international status for Eastgate was identified long ago as crucial for servicing these sectors. Delegate representatives for Limdev, Limpopo Trade and Investment and the department of trade and industry, amongst others undertook to take up the matter with their relevant authorities.