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Closure of Limpopo airport, opens hardship

The closure of a Limpopo airport has left businesses and workers who financially depended on the airport out of pocket.
The closure of a Limpopo airport has left businesses and workers who financially depended on the airport out of pocket.

 The suspension of commercial flights at the Polokwane International Gateway Airport two months ago has resulted in the closure of small businesses, while others are now laying off employees.

The airport was downgraded in April following severe safety findings by the South African Civil Aviation Authority, which led to the suspension of commercial flights.

Priscilla Khathu, who was operating a kiosk at the airport, said she had to close down her business and lay off an employee because of poor trading.

"There was no business at all because people were not using the airport and I had to pay rent and an employee as well. I had no choice but to close shop because Covid-19 also exacerbated the situation as few people travelled," she said.

Phathu said she has now ventured into another business in order to survive.

"I'm now baking cakes and selling them as I can't fold my hands. I don't think I will return even if it opens because I lost business there," she said 

The managing director of Boke Tours, Mpho Ramothwala, said his shuttling business was severely affected because he couldn't get transfer services.

"We used to get business to transport clients who flew from various parts of the world to Polokwane on a weekly basis.  Through the airport we would transport clients to as far as Thohoyandou and Phalaborwa, and bring them back to Polokwane," he said.

Ramothwala said he had to reduce his employees' salaries and retrench some because of the downgrade.

The MEC for Transport and Community Safety Mavhungu Lerule-Ramakhanya said her department has not received any report about job losses since the downgrade, but she was aware that tourism and car rental [businesses] were affected. She added that plans are at an advanced stage to get the airport up and running again.

"The aviation authority made 14 findings against the airport for not complying with standards.  And with the help of inspectors and other stakeholders, we have since addressed four findings which include non-compliance, getting technical staff and a well-structured organogram," she said.

She said the outstanding construction work will be completed in the next 21 days.

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, Lerule-Ramakhanya added that the downgrade could have been avoided,  hence they is a disciplinary process underway and other matters are before the courts.

"When the time is right, we will release the names and positions of those implicated." she said. 

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