By Felex Share
President Mnangagwa yesterday commissioned the $153 million Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport upgrading and rehabilitation project as Government modernises the country’s infrastructure to meet world standards. The project includes expansion of the international terminal building and aprons, installation of four new air bridges, a secondary radar system, construction of a VVIP pavilion, an airfield ground lighting system and communication systems.
The project is anticipated to take three years to complete and brings with it employment opportunities for Zimbabweans.
The upgrade is being funded through a concessionary loan from China Exim Bank unlocked when President Mnangagwa visited China in April.
The contractor is China Jiangsu International Economic Technical Cooperation Corporation (CJIETCC), the firm behind the successful upgrading of Victoria Falls International Airport completed in 2016.
President Mnangagwa said the upgrading and rehabilitation of the airport was a catalyst to economic development.
“It supports the broader national aspirations towards transport and infrastructure network in the country, as we endeavour to provide enablers to fully industrialise and modernise the economy,” he said.
“The ongoing refurbishment and retooling of the railway sector by the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) will complement the upgrading of airports and road constructions, as well as convergence with the modernisation of our border posts for the overall benefit of trade, industry, business and travellers alike.”
Modern infrastructure, President Mnangagwa said, was a key enabler for industrialisation, human development and economic growth.
“To this end, airports are the basic physical structure needed for any modern society, enterprise or economy to function efficiently,” he said. “It facilitates movement of goods and natural persons, tourists and investors, among others.
“It is most pleasing that this project will create employment opportunities for women and youths, among others, during its implementation, as well as trigger demand for various raw materials, thereby improving capacity utilisation in our local industry.
“Upon completion, this project is expected to boost the current positive growth and transformation trends in trade and tourism. Further, it will facilitate trade in agricultural produce, minerals and other products with China, the Far East and Europe through enhanced air connectivity in line with existing air service agreements and the envisaged growth of every sector of our economy.”
RGM International Airport has an annual combined passenger handling capacity of 2,5 million people and the upgrade is expected to see the figure shooting to six million.
The number of airlines visiting Zimbabwe is also expected to increase. President Mnangagwa said implementation of the project should be accompanied by complementing developments in the entire aviation sector.
“My Government expects robust, responsive and a seamless national transportation sector so that the general populace can have broader market choice and the advantage of competitive fares,” he said.
“I challenge the aviation to increase collaborations and linkages with the institutions of higher learning to enhance the development of relevant skills and competences, as well as modern technologies. This will ensure our country has the appropriate human capital for the sector and complements regional and global developments.
“The spin-offs from the development of this airport must extend far beyond the aviation industry and stimulate growth in other sectors of our economy in anticipation of the expanded connectivity that will result therefrom.”
President Mnangagwa said the airport, being the first port of call for international visitors, should be the glowing face reflecting the country’s culture, peace, hospitality and that Zimbabwe was open for business.
“I urge that the same hospitality we are known for as a nation be displayed at all our ports of entry, throughout the country,” said President Mnangagwa. “Zimbabwe is in a new era and this must permeate in our deeds, words and attitudes in every sector.
“My administration will continue to ease the doing of business, welcome both local and foreign capital, as well as advance the provision of services for the good of our country’s populace.”
President Mnangagwa urged the project implementers to undertake the task “on schedule and within budget, but without compromising the quality of the work.”
President Mnangagwa paid tribute to Chinese President Xi Jinping for “pragmatic” cooperation under the all-encompassing Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and Cooperation.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo said plans were underway to upgrade Charles Prince, Buffalo Range and Kariba airports, while Masvingo and Hwange airports would be refurbished.
He said commercial airports would be established in Mutare and Beitbridge, and the sites had already been identified.
“The ground breaking you (President Mnangagwa) have just conducted signals the first steps for this airport to reclaim its position in the region and beyond,” said Dr Gumbo.
“The project is meant to bring in new technologies and efficiency in the facilitation of passengers, aircrafts and cargo. We are cognisant of the fact that RGM International Airport is the gateway into our country and should always reflect the hospitality of Zimbabwe and the beginning of memorable experiences for our visitors.
“This is critical if we are to gain a competitive edge over our neighbours who are continuously upgrading their main gateways.”
Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Huang Ping said great changes had taken place under President Mnangagwa’s stewardship.
“International investors, businessmen, scholars, tourists, as well as top officials from all over the world are coming to Harare, the capital and heart of Zimbabwe,” he said.
“People always believe that the first impression is of utmost importance. As their first touch of Zimbabwe, a modern, well built, scientifically designed and maintained international airport is not only necessary, but fundamental as a premier gateway to the country, to showcase that Zimbabwe is determined and capable to open to international community.”