GONAREZHOU PARK, ZIMBABWE— The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] and the government of Zimbabwe have embarked on a landmine removal campaign in a village on the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe's government is struggling to raise funds for demining, and some people are being maimed or killed by old mines still in the ground.
A loud sound that can be heard is a mock landmine explosion set off by Zimbabwe's army in Gonarezhou National Park, near the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.
But explosions like this still happen 33 years after the country won its independence. People get maimed. Some even killed.
Thirty-year-old Philemon Sibanda lost a limb after he stepped on a landmine in 1998 while herding cattle in his village.
“They have not even cleared the area of landmines. As for me, I have no life. I am just seated. If I had not been injured I would be tilling the land as others are doing. Those who are able-bodied are crossing into South Africa to look for employment,” he said.
Sibanda can’t walk, as the prosthetic limb that was donated to him by the charity World Vision now causes pain if he uses it. He needs a new one, but cannot afford it.
Hundreds of thousands of mines laid in the 1970s during Zimbabwe's independence war still litter the ground at sites across the country. According to Halo Trust, a British-based demining organization, Zimbabwe is one of the densest minefields in the world, with approximately 5,500 unexploded landmines per kilometer.
It will take an estimated $100 million to clear them - a sum Zimbabwe does not have and is struggling to raise.
Army Colonel Mkhululi Ncube, who heads the demining exercise, said removal will take another 30 years if the international community does not chip in.
“The government had been funding the mine-clearing operation since 1982. We need assistance. There is no country, which is a state party to the Ottawa treaty, which does not get assistance from the international community,” said Ncube.
In 1999, Zimbabwe became a signatory to the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Production, Transfer, Stockpiling and Use of Anti-Personnel Landmines. The country was supposed to have cleared its landmines within 10 years of signing the treaty.
Germany, the United States and the European Union funded the demining exercise, but at some point withdrew, as accusations against President Robert Mugabe of human rights violations piled up.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is now training the army personnel who are removing mines on Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, and giving them the necessary equipment.
Olivier Dubois, who heads the ICRC in Zimbabwe, explained why his organization is now assisting in the demining of Zimbabwe. “Zimbabwe was left a bit alone to do the job. So when they approached us in 2011, we said, 'yeah, they need that kind of support' that we could offer. People are still being affected in their daily life.”
Dubois notes that mines have even injured livestock as they tried to graze - making it more urgent they be removed so Zimbabweans can live less in fear.