Zimbabwe Days 3 & 4, Minefields of Mukumbura

I spent the last two days as a guest of the fantastic HALO Trust, learning first-hand about their work on the northeastern border of Zimbabwe.  The minefields here date back to the late 1970s during Zimbabwe’s liberation war and were laid by the Rhodesian government.  In 1998 – 2000, Koch MineSafe, a commercial demining firm (which employed many of the same deminers currently working for HALO), cleared some of the landmines, but also left many still in the ground.

The many layers of landmines along the Zimbabwe border

The many layers of landmines along the Zimbabwe border

The Rhodesian government laid landmines in three rows: a Cordon Sanitaire minefield with barbed wire and buried anti-personnel mines closest to the border; three layers of Ploughshare (or Ploughshear), a directional fragmentation mine, similar to the Claymore, linked to overlapping tripwires, with each Ploughshare protected by two “keeper” landmines to prevent tampering; a reinforcement minefield consisting of two rows of anti-personnel landmines.

Koch cleared the Cordon Sanitaire landmines closest to the border and many of the Ploughshare landmines, but in most places left the reinforcement minefields (Koch’s contract covered clearance of the Cordon Sanitaire and two rows of Ploughshares).  HALO is clearing all of the mines it finds, and during my visit I saw clearance of the reinforcement minefields and the third row of the Ploughshare minefield.  The density of the minefields is such that HALO is clearing more than a thousand landmines a month (all anti-personnel mines), one of the highest clearance rates anywhere in the world.

On the left, Ploughshare mines; Top Center and Top Right, South African-made R2M2 mines; Bottom Center and Bottom Right, Portuguese-made MAPS mines.

On the left, Ploughshare mines; Top Center and Top Right, South African-made R2M2 mines; Bottom Center and Bottom Right, Portuguese-made MAPS mines.

Most of the Ploughshare mines detonated long ago, the only remnants are the stakes that held the mines and the keepers (Portuguese MAPS and either Italian-made VS50s [not pictured] or South African-made R2M2s).  In the reinforcement minefield, all of the mines are the South African M2R2s, one of which I could see sitting on top of the ground, others are buried up to 20 centimeters.

Because the mines have been here for so long, the impacts on the local communities are staggering. In one village in HALO’s working area, more than 20 persons suffered landmine injuries resulting in amputations.  In another community, 14 cattle were lost in a single year.  At the local primary school, 66 children from Mozambique crossed the minefields twice every day to attend classes.

Map of HALO Trust's working area (active sites in blue, cleared areas in green). The residents live in communities to the bottom left of the picture, separated from the minefields by the road. The Mukubura River, forming the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe is marked in yellow.

Map of HALO Trust’s working area (active sites in blue, cleared areas in green). The residents live in communities to the bottom left of the picture, separated from the minefields by the road. The Mukubura River, forming the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe is marked in yellow.

The communities are aware of the minefields.  Elders lived in the area when the mines were planted and many remembered the clearance work done by Koch.  All have stories of friends, family members or livestock killed or injured by mines.  But, the best farmland in the region cruelly lies between the minefield and the Mukumbura River and the water holes are in the same place.  Many paths of various widths crisscross the minefields and while villagers felt safe on the paths, HALO found landmines just steps away.

Red circle marks were two landmines were found next to a heavily used track from the village to the watering holes by the river.

Red circle marks were two landmines were found next to a heavily used track from the village to the watering holes by the river.

HALO has worked with the communities to identify the minefields, and has also provided assistance to many survivors.  In addition to freeing up land for development and agriculture (many local headmen are eyeing the cleared fields for housing for their communities) and making the paths to and from the water holes safer, HALO has arranged for several amputees to receive new prosthetic limbs.  For some survivors, these are the first limbs they have received in more than thirty years (or ever).

Two survivors flank July, one of HALO's senior staff.  Both survivors have received artificial limbs thanks to HALO's intervention.

Two survivors flank July, one of HALO’s senior staff. Both survivors have received artificial limbs thanks to HALO’s intervention.

There is still much to be done.  In addition to the HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid is clearing minefields along the eastern border, around the city of Mutare, and the engineering division of Zimbabwe’s army is busy with the southeastern borders.  Since 2013, the pace of clearance has increased immensely, but years more effort will be needed to clear the rest of the mines at the current levels of support.

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2 Comments on “Zimbabwe Days 3 & 4, Minefields of Mukumbura”

  1. Mike Kendellen says:

    All surveys of minefields in Zimbabwe have indicated a very high density rate of mines laid compared to most other countries. While the number of mines is generally dismissed as not being as important as the size of the mined areas ZIMAC has consistently reported a very high number that could potentially slow the pace of clearance. What has been found during clearance? More mines than expected? Less? About the same?

    • Hi Mike,
      The density is quite high in some task areas, less so in others and that all has to do with the following factors:
      1. Amount cleared by the commercial firms in 1998 – 2000,
      2. Amount cleared by local residents for farming,
      3. Brush fires,
      4. Past accidents.

      However, based upon what I have seen and heard, the Rhodesian army did lay all of the mines it said it did which is where the high landmine counts come from. Not all areas had as many layers as the highest (5,500 mines / square KM), but HALO has been finding mines exactly where they expect to based upon the reports of mine usage left by the Rhodesians and the clearance reports from the commercial firms (some of whose employees now work for HALO).

      A caveat: the 1.5 million landmine figure is from Martin Rupiah’s monograph “Landmines in Zimbabwe: A Deadly Legacy” published in 1998. The commercial deminers active in 1998 – 2000 would have reduced that figure, by how much I’m not sure.

      In the end, there are a lot of mines left, but it varies by task area. In one area, HALO found 408 mines in just 6,201 square meters; in another adjacent task, they found 3 in 4,169 square meters. Either way, the minefields are pretty dense and well-defined.

      None (or very few) of the ploughshares remain. In 1998, the commercial firms reported 85% had exploded due to fire or activation. The keepers for the ploughshares did remain and the commercial firms cleared those. In the


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