The Sunday News
Feature Vincent Gono
GROWING UP, Musabaya Chimunda (37) of Gwaivhi communal lands, Malipati in Chiredzi District never thought that one day he will be walking with the aid of an artificial limb. He was very fit, an avid soccer fan and player who vividly and enthusiastically recalls playing as a winger while his teachers ran along the touchline urging him on each time he goes for the kill.
All that is now part of an unbelievable tale as he now looks frail and can hardly kick a ball now after one of his legs was amputated when he was hit by a landmine when he and his uncle were ploughing the fields almost two decades ago.
“I was very fit. I used to play position seven with the dream of joining one of these big teams in the country such as Dynamos, Highlanders or Caps United. All that was shattered when I was hit by a landmine while ploughing the fields. I was ferried to Dumisa Clinic and later to Chikombedzi Hospital where the wound could not heal but instead festered leading the medical staff to suggest that I had to have my right leg amputated from above the knee. That meant I had to spend some time in hospital.
“The experience haunted me as it meant I was going to be confined at home as the artificial limb was all but too expensive for me. I only received this one as a donation from the Minister of Defence Cde Sydney Sekeramayi last September with 14 others, otherwise I could not walk,” said Chimunda.
At his age he is still not married but confirms that he has a girlfriend but has no money to pay lobola. He thanked Cde Sekeramayi for giving him the honour and freedom of movement.
Such is the predicament that the poor communities in the area go through as they are settled on the periphery of the minefield where cases of injuries and deaths of humans and livestock as a result of landmines and other explosives are rampant.
The area is arid, remote, extremely hot and not fit for human habitation where both natural and artificial factors seem to have conspired spiritedly to create an area totally divorced from the rest of the country.
Landmines planted during the war, lack of basic infrastructure such as roads and other communication networks, clinics, schools and shopping centres have separated this part of Chiredzi District in Masvingo Province from the rest of the world.
The remoteness as one move out of Chiredzi town towards the Sango Border Post cannot only be felt but touched as well as the area looks more of a forgotten vestige of a Stone Age era community as the landmines are a life threatening risk that scares away any potential investors.
The area where the minefield is situated is about 250km from Chiredzi and one could be forgiven for thinking that they are no longer in Zimbabwe, that they are discovering another place that has never been inhabited as the exercise of driving is quickly turned from the art that it is to a difficult, torturous, very painful and punishment-like exercise.
Roads become completely impassable as one drives into Chikombedzi, not only to small cars but even to tractors and scotch carts not because it is raining, but the roads have not been touched by a grader in a number of years while bridges destroyed by Cyclone Eline almost two decades ago have not been repaired and there is nothing to suggest that they will be repaired in the foreseeable future.
Temperatures could soar to a peak of more than 50 degrees Celsius making the area unbearably hot and with the El Nino trend, the area has become more arid and hotter, perhaps more than the rest of the country.
The hot weather conditions make the area a very fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes and malaria is endemic.
As if that is not enough the area is heavily infested with landmines that were planted by the Rhodesian army during the war of liberation further separating the area economically as the landmines have created a buffer zone in an extensive area.
Although the country got its independence from Britain in 1980 certain areas especially along the country’s borders that fed the war with military weaponry, military personnel as well as other support mechanisms from liberated African countries such as Mozambique and Zambia are still not “liberated” and people are still dying while some have been maimed by landmines that were planted by the Rhodesians.
These are areas where it can be safely said the Rhodesians are still “winning” the war as people are still falling prey to their war time machinations.
And the need to liberate them and make them productive can therefore never be overemphasised. It should remain one of the Government’s top priorities.
Such areas as Gwaivhi community in Chiredzi District along Sango Border Post remains devoid of economic and social development as they are still war zones long after the war was fought and won much so because they are not yet fully liberated from being enemy zones.
Realising their full potential in terms of development therefore remains quite difficult because they have remained no go areas while the landmines have and still continue to claim their fair share of casualties three-and-a-half decades after independence.
Chief Sengwe whose jurisdiction the area falls under said although the area was extensive and uninhabitable with settlements in the Gwaivhi communities a few kilometres in the periphery of the landmine zone, people and livestock have continued to fall victim to the deadly landmines and other dangerous explosives and weapons of war that were set by the Rhodesians to ensure total closure of the routes followed by the guerrillas to and from Mozambique that used to offer both technical and moral support to Zimbabwe during the war.
He said his subjects living close to the area continue to be cautious as if they were still in the war adding that he was deeply appreciative of the demining efforts by the Ministry of Defence.
“There are no people in the minefield but those in the periphery continue to be affected and their livestock continue to fall prey to the landmines. At times their animals stray into the area and as they go about looking for them they are injured.
“We are deeply concerned but we are gratified that the Government through the Ministry of Defence is doing something to free the area of the landmines. The guys are doing a splendid job and we hope to be using the land for economic purposes once the clearance is done,” said Chief Sengwe.
He added that progress in the implementation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park that was supposed to open Gonarezhou and merge it with Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gaza National Park in Mozambique was stalled by the landmines in the area as animals could not move freely without being affected.
Chief Sengwe said the minefield close to Gwaivhi community had injured the communities and dented their once lively hopes of a better life adversely affecting them socially and economically where both human and livestock lives were in danger with the landmines.
He added that wild and domestic animals were in danger as the area was not marked.
The communities, however, expressed gratitude to the army’s efforts to demine the area saying they were likely going to see some development as the landmines were a great investment scare.
They said the social impacts were that some homes broke down after the father or mother got maimed while there were many children who were also affected.
“We are close to the area but not necessarily in Gwaivhi. It is in Gwaivhi community where you can hardly find a family that has not been affected in one way or the other by the landmines. Some families lost their members while others have been maimed. Other families lost their livestock. The area is not suitable for human habitation and therefore has no settlements but those on the periphery of the area have been affected.
“Their livestock stray into the minefields and sometimes children pick up such things as live bullets and expose them to excessive heat where they explode in their faces and injure them. The army, however, is doing a splendid job in demining the area so that it realises its full potential in terms of productivity both economically and socially,” said Mr George Chilonga who comes close to Gwaivhi.
Member of Parliament for Chiredzi South where much of the area falls Retired Brigadier-General Callisto Gwanetsa said the landmines have affected over 30 people in Gwaivhi. He said the minefield covers an extensive area of 63km from Crooks Corner to Sango Border Post stretching a width of 20-25km.
He said due to the landmines the area could not realise its economic potential although there was a massive prospect of a great tourism project as the area was 40 000-45 000 hectares.
He said touched by the plight of the communities, Defence Minister Cde Sekeramayi last year in September donated 15 artificial limbs to villagers in Gwaivhi who were maimed by the landmines and had their limbs amputated.
Rtd Brig-Gen Gwanetsa said it was painful that development in the area was close to zero as the nearest hospital is Chikombedzi, 150km away.
He said the problem was that the clearance was seasonal and the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) engineers could not do it when it was raining as the landmines have a tendency of moving.
“The engineers can only carry out the operations in the morning as the area has excessive heat and you can imagine the fatigue as morning moves into afternoon. Because of the landmines the area is unusable and we are talking of 40 000-45 000 hectares of land that can be utilised economically. As it is now the area is not suitable for anything, we cannot plough, and cannot use the area for pastures.”
He said it has also delayed the implementation of the Great Transfrontier Park — the largest animal sanctuary in the region. Tourism has therefore suffered a major drawback.
“In crude terms I will say the area is still a little Rhodesia, it has not been liberated as it cannot benefit Zimbabweans in agriculture and the region in tourism or any other economic activity.
“It has continued to cause trauma socially as homes have broken down after one or both parents have been maimed. And the area is so remote and arid and is experiencing the worst drought. We hope donors will come to our food security concerns because the situation is dire,” said Rtd Brig-Gen Gwanetsa.
He added that the army was doing a good job in the most difficult circumstances.
At independence Zimbabwe had six minefields covering 2 700km at its borders with Zambia and Mozambique and its efforts to have the demining exercise carried out hit a brick wall after the collapse of bilateral funding agreement with Germany and America over the land reform programme in the early 2000s.
From there on the country has made efforts to demine its borders from its coffers as well as other willing partners.