The Sunday Mail
It is the common line: “I was walking from the fields, then disaster struck”.
In May, we visited some landmine victims in Chipinge and last week we were in Mukumbura, which just like any other area that lies along the stretch of border that divides Zimbabwe and Mozambique, has seen residents along the thousand-plus kilometre stretch of land walking around with permanent limps.
“This is a too often sighting,” explains Peter Sithole, the principal rehabilitation technician at Mt Darwin Hospital, where most of the victims in and around Mukumbura are attended to.
Sithole recounts of a visit he did some years back on a work-related research to the Katarira area of Mukumbura.
“I observed that about 12 men, part of the crowd that had gathered for a traditional beer drink, were walking around with a limp. On enquiry, I was informed that they were landmine victims.”
Sithole says Mukumbura has 410 people who have been maimed by landmines, of which the majority are men, with women holding the middle tier and children the least affected.
“I think men are generally in the majority of victims because they are the breadwinners. In most of the stories, they are injured whilst tending cattle, working in the fields or coming from the fields. Children are usually spared because they will be in school most of the time.”
Mukumbura, just like Muzarabani, Centenary and Rushinga, lie on the edge with Mozambique and was the thoroughfare that was used by liberation struggle guerrillas to infiltrate into Zimbabwe during the protracted war that ended in 1979 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement.
The Smith regime, losing the grip on the war as the years wore on, started planting anti-personnel landmine in areas that ran the stretch of the border.
“Here in Mukumbura, we have about a 25-kilometre stretch, which is about half-a-kilometre wide, that was mined during the war,” added Sithole. “This is the area that is currently being de-mined.”
And whilst a lot of effort and budgetary allocations, mostly donor funds, is being channelled towards de-mining, the victims of the landmines, most of whom were maimed after Independence, are walking around leg-less.
“Whilst the Government and its technical partners have to be commended for the efforts that is being done to ensure that the border area is landmine-free, there should be an attempt not to forget the landmine victims, most of whom were injured when the war was long gone.”
He said the last recorded landmine accident was around 2011.
“Because of the ongoing de-mining, most areas are now safe. Most of those injured were injured in the 80s and 90s. Around 2013, the Government stepped up de-mining and as a result, we are not recording any accidents at the moment.
“At the peak of the landmine problem, we were recording three or four cases every year. But now we have gone for years without recording any new incident.”
He explained that because Mukumbura lies in the low-lying Zambezi escarpment, most of the landmines which were planted are washed away by rains towards river beds.
“Most of the people here prefer to do their agriculture in river beds, where they get perennially wet soils. And it is these areas where landmines would have been deposited after being washed away by the rains.”
He says the predicament facing landmine victims was compounded when the Government moved the grants pertaining to their welfare from the Ministry of Health to the Department of Social Welfare.
“When their welfare was moved to Social Welfare, they have had to join the queue like everyone else seeking help at that department. And that includes the aged, the orphans and we know how overburdened the department already is.
“So naturally it takes almost forever for an amputee to get a prosthetic leg. And usually these people apply for help when they really need the artificial leg, and not some time in advance.”