MAPUTO, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has defended the planned construction of an international airport in the southern province of Gaza, saying it will have enormous potential for stimulating economic development, particularly in tourism.

Speaking in the locality of Poiombo, in the Gaza district of Chonguene, on Wednesday, Nyusi said tourism in Gaza could take a leap forward if there was an international airport in the province.

The site for the new airport is about 17 kilometres from the provincial capital, Xai-Xai. The runway will be 1,600 metres long, and the entire airport is budgeted at 50 million US dollars.

Just imagine the tourism that is being born here, in Massingir,” Mozambique Television (TVM) quoted the president as saying. Less than a month ago I was with some international investors who want to transform this area into a major southern African tourist zone. Massingir is a district in the northern part of Gaza, which contains the Limpopo National Park, and borders on South Africa’s renowned Kruger National Park.

Nyusi added that an airport in the Xai-Xai area is also required so that aircraft have somewhere to land in the event of floods in the Limpopo valley.

When we had floods here, there was nowhere for aircraft bringing supplies to land,” he said. They tried to go to the aerodrome at Chokwe, but that was also under water. Inhambane was too far away. We have to think big and think differently.”

He added that a Gaza airport would be an alternative for Maputo-bound planes to land, in the event of bad weather over the capital, rather than being forced to fly on to an airport in South Africa.

Xai-Xai is the only provincial capital in Mozambique that does not have an airport. Critics of the scheme point out that Xai-Xai is only about three hours drive from Maputo, and doubt that there is any real demand for a new airport.