Restoring Livelihoods and Dignity for Zimbabwe’s Landmine Accident Survivors
In many countries around the world recovering from conflict, landmines, and unexploded ordnance remain a serious hazard for years after the fighting ends. That’s why the United States is the world’s leading supporter of efforts to help countries deal with these hidden hazards. But land surveys and the slow, painstaking effort to safely clear landmines and buried munitions are only half of the story. In a recent visit to Zimbabwe, I met brave survivors of accidents involving landmines and saw how U.S. support for medical and rehabilitation services is making a difference in their lives.
After being forced from his land by Rhodesian security forces during Zimbabwe’s independence war in the 1970s, Gini Jockey was glad to return to his ancestral land and build a homestead for his growing family. Unbeknownst to Gini and his fellow returnees, Rhodesian security forces had laid thousands of landmines nearby — in total over one million landmines along the Zimbabwe and Mozambique border. On June 26, 1980, while out collecting wood for roof poles, Gini stepped on a landmine, which severely injured his left leg and led to a leg amputation below his knee. This accident changed his life for the worse: no longer able to farm, his extensive medical bills drove Gini and his young family into poverty and made them dependent on relatives for support. In 1998, Gini finally received a prosthetic leg from the Government of Zimbabwe, which allowed him to resume farming and start earning a living to support his family. Unfortunately, the prosthetic broke in 2010, and Gini and his family slipped back into poverty once again.
In another case, Ms. Beulah Patrick — a hardworking, divorced mother of four who had buried two children at a young age — stepped on a landmine while cutting grass to turn into thatch roofs. Beulah too lost her leg below her left knee. This loss of mobility prevented her from earning a living, as she could no longer farm or cut grass for thatch roofs. She now had to rely solely on her surviving son, who had to leave school to help support the family.
Since 1997, the United States invested $7.1 million in helping Zimbabwe to build the National Demining Authority of Zimbabwe. While the military engineering companies improved access to land and infrastructure in many parts of the country, no landmine clearance along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border had occurred. In 2013, the United States, witnessing the tragedies caused by landmines along the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border, began efforts through The HALO Trust to help landmine victims and to clear landmines from the area.
Gini, Beulah, and fellow amputees were identified as landmine survivors during the course of surveying and clearing the minefields. Working through The HALO Trust and Cassim’s Prosthetics — a local Zimbabwe company, the United States provided funding to supply nine local mine accident survivors with prosthetics and help them return to leading productive lives. Gini and Beulah were in this first group of nine and both were very excited to be able to work and support themselves again. In their words, “This season we are going to plough our land now that we can use our legs!”
As U.S. support for humanitarian landmine clearance in Zimbabwe increased, allowing more areas to be surveyed, an additional 29 landmine accident survivors were found. The United States plans to assist these long-suffering amputees with new prosthetics by early-2015. In addition to direct assistance to the landmine survivors, almost all of the deminers hired by The HALO trust and funded by the United States, live adjacent to the minefields that have restricted their ability to live in safety and access land and water for over 30 years. Therefore, the income they earn goes directly back into the local community.
During my field visits, I was able to see firsthand the positive impacts this had on the community, as people could now pay school fees for their children to attend school, improve their homes, and feed their families. Finally, these brave men and women are literally clearing the very land their families will be able to safely and productively use after the landmines are gone.
Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.3 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.
About the Author: Darren Manning is a former Program Manager in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA). Follow @StateDeptPM on Twitter.