21 July 2011

Zimbabwe: Landmines Still Haunt Mukumbura


They are communities living in constant fear. They are a people that spend everyday listening and anticipating a fatal loud bang.

A people who fear that the next bang could take away their beloved one or ones, maim their children, husbands, mothers, brothers or sisters. Livestock too!

The bang could be a signature for the death of the family's only cow, a symbol of its entire savings.

The villages are a stone's throw from the landmine-infested border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique and they have had to endure this for three decades since the country's independence.

Herdsmen have watched helplessly as in many occasions they have watched an animal being thrown into the air before plunging helplessly to the ground.

This is the everyday life of people living in Kapfudza, Nyamande and Chigango villages under Chief Chiswiti in Mukumbura.

The villages are among the many that lie on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The greater part of the stretch of no man's land lying between the two countries is heavily infested by landmines and is in urgent need of demining.

The anti-personnel mines were planted by the Rhodesian security forces to deter Zimbabweans leaving the country to join the liberation struggle. They were planted into the suspected crossing routes into neighbouring countries.

Over the years the markers that were placed to warn people of the mines have since disappeared.

"While the problem is concentrated in that portion of the area, people have fallen victim to these anti-personnel mines in the fields and pathways. We are not very safe here. At once engineers from the Zimbabwe National Army and other countries were here clearing these mines but abandoned it in 2003 arguing that the mines were planted haphazardly and the equipment that they were using exposed them too.

"They promised to come and almost a decade down the line, they are yet to return. And as such our battle for survival continues," said Gini Jockey Chauma, who lost his leg in 1995.

He says: "I have had to endure the condition all my adulthood. We leave in fear and always pray that no one of my children loses his leg or life to these nasty things."

Anti-personnel mines in the area have left many without legs and on crutches. Children are attracted to the objects that come in different shapes and sizes and in their voyages of discovery lost sight or limbs.

Towards the end of 2010, two boys almost lost their sight after having an encounter with an anti-personnel mine.

The two - Tafadzwa Tagumira (10) and Casper Simpson (9) - were playing in the fields and saw the exposed landmine. With the education that they had got from school they did not go near the object but decide to throw stones on it.

"One of boys hit the target and it exploded catching the boys with its shrapnel injuring them in the process. The boys were covered in dust when they were discovered.

"People had to call them to safety. In shock and injured, the boys had to drag themselves from the area risking detonating other unseen mines.

"I had to spent almost a month with them at Mt Darwin Hospital where they were being treated. Luckily they survived but five months after the incident they sometimes have swollen faces and hands. We take them to the clinic and hospital where they have the shrapnel removed. Even now vanongovhumuka," said Mrs Tsitsi Mashiri, mother to Casper.

Mr Chiposse Bandera himself a victim of the landmine said a mine exploded when he was collecting poles to build a hut in an area that was cleared of the landmines. "When I tried to reach the tree disaster struck and I lost my left leg.

"My relatives had to pull me from the area using a rope in fear of stepping on mines left over during the clearing exercise. People rejoiced when the area was cleared unaware that some mines had been left behind posing the greatest danger to people and their livestock.

"The area around that big muwuyu tree is notorious of the mines. It is a no-go area. Try it and you lose your limbs. Every year our livestock fall victim there and we have watched in horror and hope Government and international agencies will come to our rescue one day.

"We are appealing to the responsible authorities to come to our rescue otherwise we will continue to lose animals and limbs to these anti-personnel mines," Mr Bandera said.

A nurse in charge at Mukumbura Border Clinic say they usually teach people in the are about the dangers of mines and that has worked a bit as the number of injuries have drastically gone down.

She said there was, however, a need to continue educating people as more mines were being exposed by erosion or moved to other areas with soil.

Village health worker Gaison Chururai implored Government to intensify education campaigns in the area to minimise incidents were people temper with unknown objects.

"Mines are being exposed and picked everywhere. Our people need to know the dangers and that requires constant education particularly for the children," he said.

He said in 2006 a 12-year-old Mobie Chiutsi died on the spot in the area after picking up a landmine when he strayed in the area.

Katarira Primary School headmaster Mr Jenami said they were getting literature for use in school from well-wishers and that had helped in lessening the incidences of tampering with mines.

"Our greatest problem is that the mines come in different shapes and sizes and that poses a danger to our children who are at the discovering age. They pick these objects into the homes or stone them to find what is the inside leading to injuries.

"Once we had exercise books showing the various shapes of landmines and that did well in reminding our children of the monsters they are exposed to everyday.

"Imagine a few years ago a mine was discovered below that tree where we have our main bell. To imagine how that the mine was buried there for over 25 years is difficult. That is our situation and it calls for enhance educational campaigns," he said.

The war of liberation was fought and ended but the mines continue kill and maim long after conflicts are over. The mines remains the grim reminder of the war that was fought and is gone.

The community says Government should at least fence or paint the confines of the area to keep away stray children and animals.

"If it cannot demine the area now why not put a fence along the area to keep away animals and a people.

"We have used the road running the boundary as the demarcation line but tat does not prevent animals and people going astray," said Mr Bandera.

Mr Jenami said Government would at least paint the confines of the area to clearly mark it away from the people.

"Painting stones along the area will help mark the danger area for the people," he said.

Mukumbura is one of the areas that have not been surveyed that include parts of Mudzi and Lusulu.

Areas that have been surveyed but are yet to be cleared include the Rwenya and Musengezi area, from Sango Border Post to Crooks Corner, Rusitu to Mutize Mission, Sheba to Beacon Hill, Rushinga, Burma Valley and Kariba Powerline.

Anti-personnel mines are basically into three categories with the blast mines being the most common type.

Blast mines are buried few centimetres below the ground and are triggered by someone stepping on the pressure plate, applying between pressure above six kilogrammes.

They are designed to destroy an object in close proximity, into fragments, which can cause secondary damage, such as infection and amputation.

Bouncing mine are usually buried with only a small part of the igniter - "Bouncing Betty" - exposed. When activated, the igniter sets off a propelling charge, lifting the mine about a metre into the air. The mine then ignites a main charge, causing injury to a person's head and chest.

Fragmentation release fragments in all directions, or can be arranged to send fragments in one direction (directional fragmentation mines).

Arguably the most lethal, the mines can cause injury up to 200 metres away and kill at closer distances. The fragments used in the mines are either metal or glass. Fragmentation mines can be bounding or ground-based.

Until a solution is found the lives of people living a long the border remains in danger.

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