Maverick Citizen


Generator included — how Eastern Cape government fixed up dilapidated airport for UAE royals 

Generator included — how Eastern Cape government fixed up dilapidated airport for UAE royals 
Bhisho-Bulembu Airport, Eastern Cape, South Africa. (Photo: / Wikipedia)

Once the hub of the short-lived and grandly named Ciskei International Airways, the Bulembu Airport near Qonce — despite a multi-million rand facelift in 2007 — had become a place where ‘airplanes did not land anymore’. But after a R20-million donation from the United Arab Emirates, the Eastern Cape government upgraded the facility and installed a generator to prepare for the arrival of the president of the UAE.

The princely sum of R20-million was donated by the United Arab Emirates to enable the Eastern Cape government to get the Bulembu Airport near Qonce (formerly King William’s Town) ready for a visit by the country’s royal family and its president.

This included a generator to provide power in case of rolling blackouts.

Private planes transporting the leader of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his entourage, arrived at Bhisho-Bulembu Airport this week for a visit to the  Sheik’s game reserve between Makhanda and Bedford.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane’s office said this was a private visit and not at the invitation of the premier. Khuselwa Rantje, the Eastern Cape government’s head of communication, said the airport was, in line with South Africa’s protocols, temporarily designated as a port of entry to enable the passage of the UAE leader. 

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of UAE

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates (Photo: Andy Rain / EPA / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“All relevant resources have been put in place at the airport to ensure adherence to the laws of the country,” she said.

“Bhisho-Bulembu Airport has been in existence for many years and upgrades were done years ago by the government. The province is working hard to strengthen trade relations with the UAE in various areas including education, agriculture, renewable energy, oil and gas, research and innovation, as well as partnerships in the aviation economy.

“Provincial government is negotiating the possibility of a joint investment project to raise standards at the government-owned Bhisho Airport, in line with requirements of an international cargo airport, as a start,” she said.

Rantjie said there were no agreements in place — they were still “exploring”.

“The province hopes to use this opportunity to convince UAE citizens that the Eastern Cape is both a tourist and an investment destination; thus, hosting their president is a crucial step in that regard,” Mabuyane said.

Mabuyane visited the United Arab Emirates a month ago and returned to South Africa on 4 April. Before his departure, he said he was discussing the refurbishment and upgrade of Bhisho Airport for the landing of wide-body aircraft.

In his 2023 State of the Province Address, Mabuyane committed his government to use economic diplomacy as an instrument to attract foreign investment to sustain economic growth and job creation. He has been clear that his plan is to make it easier for international visitors to fly directly into the Eastern Cape. 

“The problem of limited international and domestic flights into the province is not only about tourism but also about reducing the cost of doing business in the province,” Mabuyane said.

Transport spokesperson, Unathi Binqose, said the Eastern Cape government received R20-million from the United Arab Emirates to do “routine maintenance” at the airport:

“There were no upgrades… What was done was garden services and cleaning it up, painting the lines and the runway… fixing it, replacing the lights. It wasn’t an upgrade. It was just putting on some touches to get it ready for the arrival of the UAE delegation for a head of state. 

He said the contribution from the UAE included a generator for times of rolling blackouts. 

“It has always been the dream of the Eastern Cape government to further use the airport as an international cargo airport,” Binqose added. “The successful landing of the UAE delegation has further demonstrated the capabilities of this airport and will serve as a motivation to push towards that.”

The airport was used by the South African National Defence Force while its office space alongside the facility was being renovated.

“No flights had landed there in a long time before the arrival of the UAE delegation,” Binqose added. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Anneli Delport says:

    I would love to know what cargo needs to be handled in the middle of nowhere that cannot be handled at the Eastern Cape’s other 2 airports?

    • Paul Hjul says:

      The devil is in the detail.

      I am quite supportive of getting the Bhisho airport and a surrounding SEZ properly functioning and roping in foreign jurisdictions correctly isn’t a bad idea. The head of state (even on a private visit) should be entering through a secure port and unlike the Gupta’s Waterkloof would be a natural entry port. Bhisho is a SAPS facility and having located at that airport the means to serve for special entries into the Republic and as a cargo route for an SEZ makes sense to me.

      But here is the question? Did the ANC or individuals take a bribe or the like? Has there been transparency… Etc…

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Something doesn’t add up

  • David Crossley says:

    It beggars belief that we should be facilitating the entry of the ruler of the UAE – particularly after the debacle of the Gupta’s failed extradition.
    Once again, money talks and our lickspittle politicians take the knee to prominent despots from countries that flout international human rights for their own benefit.
    If this man and his entourage have to visit, then they should use Commercial airports like ordinary people.
    What a farcical situation from a gutless government!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    How can a Shiek foreigner own a South African game farm?

    • Kb1066 . says:

      Is there a difference between a Shiek (sic) foreigner and any other foreigner. There are lots of international investors with private game lodges in South Africa

  • Mike Meyer says:

    67 kilometres from East London Airport? R20 million to cut grass, paint lines and buy a generator? Something smelly here.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    The last guys that came via a special airport were the Gupta’s….
    Something is again rotten…

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    These guys stop at nothing to get their hands on some loot! Bugger the taxpayer and bugger the poor and needy! And the looting is happening in plain sight now!!!

  • John Hepton says:

    It will become an illegal export report for illicit diamonds and precious metals as well as money laundering.

  • Eddie Maulson says:

    Could it be that some of our political elite owe this Sheikh fella a favour? Perhaps for putting the Guptas beyond our reach? Naah! Perish the thought!

  • Riette Fern says:

    Please ask the Minister of Home Affairs how the immigration controls at this “international port of entry” was exercised. Waterkloof landing comes to mind.

  • Philip Machanick Machanick says:

    Why do we need a cargo airport in a town with no significant industry, when the two major industrial cities already have airports?

  • Hansie Louw says:

    Looks like a short runway! It would be interesting to know the breakdown of the R20m in terms of expenses. The generator could possibly be R3m, but the painting of the lines etc for another R3m. That leaves R14m or so that is probably allocated for another visit somewhere in the future?

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    In the absence of more information, and naively assuming that nobody took a bribe ( I know someone did), I see this as a bit of pay back for letting the Guptas go. Let the UAE pay for all the airports for what I care. The Gulf countries swim in money so sharing their spoils is not bad at all. At least a few people had jobs for a while, and their families had food on the table.

  • blingtofling says:

    That one flew in under the radar! Literally and figuratively. Do we wait and see how the Government spin this or should we put our bloodhounds onto the trail while it is still hot?

  • William Stucke says:

    The image at the top appears to be the SAPS Airwing buildings on the North side of the runway, not the Bhisho-Bulembu Airport on the South side, which has the ICAO designation FABE.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Well, if the UAE government is paying for it, then I suppose there is nothing wrong with this. After all they want to use it themselves.

  • Grant Turnbull says:

    Something stinks here. They could have used EL airport but didnt want too much publicity. I suspect they flew in some dollars for the ANC election kitty or the ministers Phala fund.

  • Nic van Wyk says:

    It is called money laundering. Think laterally.

  • Gordon Pascoe says:

    I seem to recall government rejecting a plan by some wealthy SA individuals to open their own arrivals / departure lounge at CPT airport? While I don’t necessarily support that application, it’s interesting to read that there were no such barriers or questions asked in this case involving a foreigner.

  • Jonathan Schrire says:

    R20 mn for garden maintenance, painting lines and fixing lights! Bahaha!! You gotta laugh or cry

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