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Eswatini’s ‘flag lady’ on the road to prosperity


Senteni Mahlalela is a 27-year-old woman who lives in Ezulwini, in the northwest of Eswatini, the historical center of the kingdom. Since 2017, she has worked along the Main Road 3 (MR3), a major highway that links some of the country’s most important cities, such as Matsapha, Mbabane, Manzini and Ngwenya. The MR3 is one of the busiest roads in the nation, crossing from the east to the west of the country. It is also a major part of the road network in southern Africa.

Mahlalela used to work in a shop in her hometown, where she earned a small income and had few prospects. When she heard about the jobs being created by the upgrading of the MR3, she knew she had to seize the opportunity. After two days of training in traffic security and safety, she became a “flag lady”, indicating to cars when to pass, slow down or stop, in order to allow the smooth movement of trucks from one part of the construction site to the other.

Mahlalela works six days a week and nine hours a day: “The work is tough but I am happy because I can socialize with my co-workers. And I earn much more money than before.” In addition to saving money, she has built a house for her parents and herself in Ezulwini. The construction is expected to end in 2021, and she hopes that she will work on similar projects in the future.

The rehabilitation of 13.2km of the MR3-Manzini-Mbadlane Highway is a $66.69 million project co-financed by the African Development Bank and the government of Eswatini. The Bank granted the kingdom a loan of $45.9 million and a $1.75 million grant for capacity building and technical assistance.

The project commenced in 2017, and aims to double the size of the current two-lane single paved carriageway to increase trade and improve the travels of urban commuters. The works include major interchanges.

In total, the site has generated 538 jobs, of which 388 are direct ones. Nomsa Dube, one of the three women engineers involved, believes the refurbished road will boost tourism, as it is the main route to the airport. Through the technical experience gained over the past two years, she has been able to complete her engineering certificate, qualifying her to join the supervision team.

With the Manzini-Mbadlane Highway project, the Bank is building on a previous project it financed: the construction of a vital 11km bypass near Mbabane. The launch of the Manzini Interchange project on June 18, 2019 complements the two previous projects. These infrastructure projects are part of the Bank’s strategy in Eswatini, supporting the country’s ambition to become a preferred crossing point between South Africa and Mozambique.

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