IN 1998 — more than 18 years after landmines were used against liberation war fighters — a villager in Sengwe Communal lands near Sango border post, Philemon Tsovani (25), had his right leg shattered by a explosive.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
He was herding cattle when he unknowingly ventured into an area infested with landmines.
“One of the cows I was herding strayed into the area infested with landmines and I went after it not aware of the danger,” Tsvovani recalled.
“Before I knew it, there was a loud bang and I found myself lying on the ground in a pool of blood with my right leg dangling.”
He said he was only 17 years old when the landmine accident happened and his life was completely destroyed as he can no longer do any kind of work or move properly. He is now using crutches.
“My future was completely destroyed as you can see that my right foot was severely damaged and cannot balance,”
he said, balancing on his crutches.
Another victim, Hlegani Mudzikiti, had to have one of his feet amputated after stepping on a landmine four years ago in the same area.
“My accident happened in the Chiukudu area of Sengwe village when I was also looking for my cattle that had strayed. When the landmine exploded after stepping on it, I was the only one who was hit and the cattle survived it,” Mudzikiti said.
His relative, Talakufa Mudzikiti, who is also landmine victim, said his leg was blown up during the liberation struggle and he had to be taken to Chiredzi for treatment. Since then he has been depending on others.
The three landmine victims were part of the group of people now living with disabilities who gathered at Crooks Corner to meet members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs who had visited the place to make an investigation into areas infested with landmines in the country and the effects on communities.
Zimbabwe National Army Major Shorai Manezhu, who is commanding the remaining exercise in Sengwe communal lands, told the committee the minefield from Sango border post to Crooks Corner stretched for 53km and they had since cleared 21km of the primary minefield and 21km of the secondary mine field.
“We use bulldozers to clear the fields and then follow with manual clearance where de-miners remove the landmines wearing protective clothing and using detectors to locate them,” Manezhu said.
“Some of the minefields are marked, but we do not have the actual record as to their patterns or types of mines because some of them were disturbed by weather patterns like rain, animal movement, as well as vegetation.”
Commander of the Zimbabwe Corps of Engineers, Colonel Mkhululi Ncube, told the committee that while other countries had pieces of legislation to take care of the welfare of victims of landmines and above surface anti-personnel mines, in Zimbabwe there was no Act to cover the welfare of the victims.
“We do not have a law to cover for the victims in Zimbabwe. They are taken care of like any other person living with disabilities under the Disabled Persons Act,” he said.
Ncube said although there were very few casualties as the dangerous areas were now clearly marked, villagers at times tried to retrieve their cows whenever they were hit by landmines and as a result got injured.
“Mine victims require social support in form of medical treatment, rehabilitation and compensation. Although the government has provided for this, more still needs to be done with regards to mine victims’ assistance. While the number of casualties is relatively low, several cases are not reported because of the remoteness of the areas,” he said.
Chairperson of the committee, Clifford Sibanda, said Zimbabweans should not be living in fear of landmines 35 years after independence.
Chief Makuti Lisimati Sengwe said some of the landmines in his area were situated along the borders of Mozambique and South Africa.
“We are no longer able to visit our relatives in Mozambique and South Africa because of landmines. If they are not removed soon, the Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park project will not be successful.
“There are many people that are crippled due to landmine accidents and it has affected their livelihoods,” he said.
According to statistics given to the committee, an estimated 1 650 people have been killed by landmines countrywide, while an estimated 2 000 were injured and more than 800 000 traumatised.
Although the ZNA, supported by non-governmental organisations like Halo Trust, the Norwegian People’s Agency and the International Committee of Red Cross has gone a long way to clear the landmines and conscientise people of their dangers, lack of funding, equipment and severe weather patterns have hindered progress in completely clearing them.