from PATRICK CHITONGO recently in Sengwe
SENWGE, (Lowveld Post)
FOLLOWING over four decades of risking life and limb in the wake of landmines planted by the colonial regime, villagers in Sengwe communal lands near Mozambique must dodge the explosives for at least another six years because of a number of challenges affecting the demining process.

Landmine clearance in Sengwe communal lands, Chiredzi south. File photo

Chief among the problems is the lack of funds for the clearance exercise that is set to cost $2 million.

Insufficient specialised equipment, dangers associated with the task as well as layoffs during rainy seasons have also contributed to the slow operations at minefields, 39 years after independence.

“Demining is an expensive, dangerous and slow operation which requires a lot of funding and specialised equipment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Director of Public Relations.

Makotore said they were struggling to secure funding from donors.

“All other mine-affected countries world over seek donor funding but we have been doing this from 2000-2012, without any donor support,” the army spokesman told Lowveld Post.

“Based on the current rate of clearance, expected increase in capacity building of the National Mine Clearing Unit and the coming on board of an international demining organisation, it is envisaged the completion of mined areas will be by 2025,” Makotore said.

Belgian-registered APOPO (Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling or Anti-Personnel Landmines Removal Product Development in English) is the organisation.

On its website, APOPO boasts of high technology and expertise in demining, using state of the art equipment as well as giant pouched rats and singer dogs.

Makotore said before engaging them, the army had made some strides to rid the area from minefields.

As at end of March 2019, it had cleared 257,92 km against a target of 310.05 km mostly at the Mozambican border.

During the period, the army has also cleared 21 km double stretch of the initial 53km in Zimbabwean regions towards the border with Mozambique and South Africa (Sengwe).

The exercise started in 2006 but hindered by stoppages during rainy seasons.

The cleared area is between Limpompo and Mwenezi rivers where 24 258 landmines have been destroyed.

Chief Sengwe, Willie Makoti, whose area is the most affected by the explosives, bemoaned the loss of lives and livestock.

“We are still leaving in fear of these landmines. You cannot travel freely in this area. We welcome any initiative that will help in destroying these mines… fast,” Chief Sengwe said.

Lloyd Nzombane, the Gonarezhou Conservancy Trust Senior Wildlife Officer, said his organisation had lost some animals that strayed into the minefields.

He said tourists are also afraid to visit parts of areas close to the park for fear of landmines.

“This is a setback on our side,” Nzombane lamented.

Zimbabwe, which won independence after a brutal struggle with the settler regime, inherited eight distinct and major mined areas.

The landmines were laid covering a linear distance of 850 km, containing over 3 million explosives.

Since 2014, after government embraced sophisticated equipment and modern demining methods, the army has a total of 148 826 landmines.