Last week I was fortunate enough to have been included in a delegation that visited Lusaka. The purpose of this was to engage with stakeholders in Zambia ahead of the introduction of a direct air service between King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) and Lusaka.
This service, to be offered by SA Express, is expected to commence soon. It will give reciprocal access to businesses and tourists via a two-hour 20-minute flight.
By contrast, our route via Joburg took five-and-a-half hours.
This is the first route that SA Express wishes to open between Durban and SADC capitals to provide better access to a market that comprises a quarter of a million people.
At the heart of this initiative is the Dube TradePort Corporation whose mission includes the fulfilment of the vision that KSIA should become an international airport used by several carriers.
Currently, there is a good deal of hype about Africa and its economic potential. We are in a phase of a new “scramble”. But Zambia features rather less in this than some other SADC countries. One wonders why.
Over the past decade, Zambia’s economy has grown at an annual average of 5-6%, while currently this is exceeding 7% and is expected to maintain a level around 7.75% in the next few years.
The Copper Belt continues to be Zambia’s major foreign earner, but business is developing in other sectors as well thanks to a liberalised economy in which there are no foreign exchange restraints. In addition, one can register a business in Zambia within 48 hours.
As in most African countries, the middle class is expanding at a fast rate. Lusaka looked like many developed towns in SA and is characterised to a noticeable extent by the presence of SA companies.
A newish shopping centre, for example, has Woolworths, Mr Price, Exact! and Identity prominently displayed as tenants.
Shoprite has a strong hold on supermarket retailing with over 20 stores in Zambia. Bell Equipment has a plant in Zambia, while Unilever and Illovo are also very prominent there.
Among others, we met the Zambia Association of Chambers of Commerce, the Zambian Association of Manufacturers, the Lusaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Zambia Tourism Board, as well as a few business people.
These representatives were all distinguished and knowledgeable men who reflected a sophisticated and orderly business community which is intent on maximising economic benefits for their country.
Language is no barrier here – without exception, the people we met were highly proficient in English.
Their country offers fantastic tourism products, but one recognises that this is just one sector in which Zambians are working to sustain their high growth rate. The Victoria Falls is a tourism icon, if ever there was one, and it’s time it regained its once-popular reputation as one of those sights that should be “seen before you die”.
Concerted efforts are being made to put the town of Livingstone firmly on the map.
Recent additions to the international air services to and from Lusaka include Emirates and KLM and these will be keen to capitalise on the attractions of Zambia as a chosen destination.
I understand that Walking Safaris originated in Zambia, where there is a plethora of game parks, and, indeed, waterfalls. The SA Express link between here and Lusaka will facilitate business travelling – our people linking with their Zambian offices, entrepreneurs seeking new opportunities, investors interested in resort and upmarket lodge development; their people importing or exporting goods through Durban or Dube TradePort or seeking new opportunities here – and tourism. Zambia and Durban will become weekend destinations.
One speculates that Emirates could develop a marvellous holiday package offering a week at the beach followed by a week in the game parks of Zambia, and including a visit to the Falls.
Tourists taking advantage of this would fly into Durban and fly out of Lusaka to return to Dubai.
What struck me forcibly was the role that a direct air service between Durban and Lusaka would play in developing synergies, synergies from which both cities, and countries, could benefit enormously.
These could not be contemplated with any significant success without a direct air link.