Pretoria - Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet today officially handed over the uMthatha Airport to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu for development and management by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
According to the agreement, the SANDF will develop the airport to international standards, with an extended runway and it will be used as a strategic asset for air transport logistics, border security operations (along the border with Lesotho), maritime operations and other regional operations.
"For the SANDF, the airport is a strategic asset, from borderline security, particularly the borderline with Lesotho, to securing of our maritime borders. In our view, this is a strategic place. For the province, this airport must grow to be a regional economic hub, supporting agriculture and boosting the local economy through tourism," said Sisulu.
Sisulu said the presence of a full military airport would also assist in emergencies and disasters in the region.
"We are in partnership with the people of the Eastern Cape. We are here to work with you to develop and support this province, both from economic development and building of communities," she said.
The airport will also be used as a pilot school.
"The SAAF [SA Air Force] will also operate a pilot school from this airport. Young people from ... the Eastern Cape will now have their own home pilot school, opening up career opportunities that have never existed before," said Sisulu.
She assured airport staff that they would not lose their jobs.
"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."
Sisulu said the fine details of the handover were still being worked on by officials of the Eastern Cape government and the Defence Force. Cabinet announced the handover last week during a post Cabinet briefing.