The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Landmines Kill 1 650

At least 1 650 people have been killed since 1980 by landmines planted by the Ian Smith regime and other remnant explosives used during the liberation war, the director of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre, Colonel Mkhululi Ncube, said yesterday.

Col Ncube said this when he appeared before the Senate's Thematic Committee on Peace and Security.

"From the statistics, we were not able to get the exact figure but from the figures which have been accumulating from independence, the number of people killed are about 1 650. This is not only due to anti-personal landmines but the explosive remnants of war," he said.

At least 25 000 hectares of communal land and 10 000 hectares of commercial farm land was still covered by landmines and could not be used for any economic purposes.

Col Ncube said at least 2 000 people had been injured by the landmines while 800 000 people's livelihoods have been affected.

"We estimate that 800 000 people are traumatised by these land- mines. For specific details, I can say since 2012, 18 people were killed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war while 12 incurred various injuries.

"Most of these incidences have been attributed to speculation that a mine contains red mercury so people try to tamper with it so that they get red mercury, but it's not correct, it's just a myth. There is no mercury in a mine. A mine contains militant TNT so people lose lives because they think they can get a quick buck," he said.

Five people died in Chitungwiza in a blast last year after they were attempting to extract red mercury from a land mine, while a welder was killed by a mortar bomb in Sunningdale in March this year after he had been hired to open it.

He added that domestic and wild animals have not been spared from the landmines while tourism has also been affected.

"It has got an impact on tourism. We all know of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which comprises the Kruger Park in South Africa, the Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe, and Limpopo National Park in Mozambique," Col Ncube said.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe National Army engineers have been commended for their efforts in clearing landmines planted during the liberation war by the Rhodesian security forces along the country's borders.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Engineers Corps 34th anniversary held at Pomona Barracks recently, Chief of Staff Quartermaster Staff, Major General Douglas Nyikayaramba hailed the remarkable performance of the army landmine clearance teams despite the scale of the exercise.

"Demining operations remain your main preoccupation where you are doing commendable progress on reclamation of mined areas for developmental purposes," he said.

He said army engineers had so far cleared an area covering 679 857 square metres since 2012, recovering and destroying 9 950 anti-personal mines.

"You also managed to clear a 0,6 square kilometre mined area around Kariba Power Station and it is pleasing that the area was handed over to the authorities in 2013 for the expansion of the Kariba Hydro Power Station which is now work in progress," Maj Gen Nyikayaramba said.

Years after the protracted 1970s war of independence, Zimbabwe is still grappling with landmines which continue to kill and maim civilians and other wild and domestic animals.

Maj Gen Nyikayaramba hailed army engineers for promoting education through community assistance programmes which saw them constructing classroom blocks and teachers houses in various parts of the country.

Schools which received support include Nyakasikana Primary School in Beatrice, Mbizo High and Sally Mugabe Primary Schools both in Kwekwe and Victoria Junior School in Masvingo.

Maj Gen Nyikayaramba urged the sappers to remain steadfast in defending the country's sovereignty.

"Be that as it may, let us all remain vigilant. Remember, we are the last pillar of defence of the nation hence we are the target of the imperialists," he said.

"It is the duty of all of us to resolutely defend Zimbabwe at all costs against enemies. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty."

The anniversary celebrations were marked by various sporting and entertainment activities.

Popular musician Jah Prayzah entertained the crowd. He also appealed to the donor community to assist Government with funds to complete the demining exercise.

Currently, two organisations - the Norwegian People's Aid and Halo Trust - are providing assistance in this regard.

Under the Ottawa Convention, which Zimbabwe is party to, the demining exercise should have been completed by 2009 with the deadline being extended on four occasions to ensure its completion.

The Smith regime planted at least three million landmines at the height of the liberation struggle to hinder movement of freedom fighters.

More than 200 000 landmines have been removed so far. They are concentrated on Zimbabwe's borders with Mozambique and Zambia.

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