Remarks by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms LN Sisulu at the occasion of the handing over of uMthatha Airport to South African National Defence Force

21 May 2012

Premier of the Eastern Cape Ms Noxolo Kiviet, the Airport Manager, officials of the Eastern Cape and national government, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, this is a very exciting moment for the Eastern Cape and indeed for all of us. Today, all of us are witnessing a very historic moment in the history of this region, the handing over of the uMthatha airport to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). We started on this journey approximately three months ago. Some will be asking why.

Firstly we have our own operational needs as the SANDF, they are many and varied, ranging from borderline security particularly the challenging borderline with Lesotho, to the guarding of our maritime borders. In our view, this is a strategic place. We also have ambitious plans to develop a pilot school. But most important Premier is that the Defence Force is part and parcel and must play a part and contribute to the programmes of the government that we serve.

One of those is the King Sabata Presidential Revitalisation Project announced by Mr. President Zuma during the State of the Nation address earlier this year. This project is aimed at getting the necessary funding and related support to uMthatha and surrounding areas.

And to those who are wondering what is going to happen to their jobs, is the Defence Force coming to displace and replace them, we wish to give the assurance that the Defence Force is not here to disorganise your lives. Instead, it is here to extend and expand the world of opportunities that this region offers. The finer details of what this handover means in terms of operations including flights, labour and many other things are still being worked on by officials of the Eastern Cape government and the Defence Force.

We therefore looked at the efforts of the Eastern Cape government to upgrade and thought the Defence Force had a responsibility. For us in the Defence Force, it meant a contribution in the economic development of this region. In it we see jobs being created, infrastructure in and around Mthatha developing, more planes landing at this airport and, hopefully bringing the fares down.

Most important Premier is that this facility, once finished, becomes a node for a transport network that must service the entire region. This region with its heritage sights, beautiful pristine coastal areas and many other attractions must develop into a tourist attraction.

It can be done and indeed, we must get a bigger slice of the tourist pie and divert part of that industry to Port St John’s, a source of attraction in yesteryears, Bizana, Hole in the Wall and many other fascinating tourist places. They do not have the bright lights and the glitter of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, but I am convinced that we have a lot to show South Africans and the world and win ourselves a portion of that highly competitive industry.

We are also mindful of the fact that some leaders of our movement come from this region. With the long history of the struggling people of this country still being written, one hopes that some historians or tourists would one day want to set foot on the soil where OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and many others, once lived.

I really hope that this airport will be a source of inspiration to the people of this region to develop it, for them and for future generations.

We have resolved, and this is a matter that I alluded to in my budget vote speech last Thursday, that we will use the fact that the Defence Force presence constitutes dots throughout this country, to make our little contribution in creating the necessary infrastructure for the improvement of the lives of South Africans. And so, whether it's the movement of books for the schools or building of bridges, we are at you service.

The terms can always be negotiated. I look forward to the day when you, Premier, and me will come back to cut the ribbon of a fully functional and expanded Mthatha Airport. With the trucks, bulldozers and carte pillars rumbling in the distance, I have no doubt that that day will be soon.

Ndiyabulela.

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