Rhodesian landmines stalk Ba Tonga

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YOU can’t see it — you can’t hear it — you can’t smell it — but the conflict in Zimbabwe has been over, for some 38 years. Landmines are still killing or seriously maiming both humans and animals in war-torn countries across the world every day.
In Zimbabwe the Ba Tonga people also bore the brunt of the liberation war, however, their experience was more deadly as Rhodesian forces had planted landmines along the border with Zambia to deter the movement of liberation war fighters who were fighting from the Zambian side from entering into Zimbabwe. Other land mines were planted further inland in the Mlibizi area.
The Ba Tonga elders also tell of harrowing tales when Rhodesian Front soldiers drove their domestic animals and children over mine fields to detonate the deadly landmines so that the Rhodesians could easily pass as they tracked the guerillas.
It was the Rhodesians who had mined the area in the first place and knew exactly where they had planted the landmines but it was just an act of cruelty as they were at the verge of losing the war.
Some of the victims in the Mlibizi area are still walking on stumped limbs as a result of the barbaric and cruel act by the Rhodesian army, although a good number benefitted from prosthesis donated by the Government and other humanitarian groups.
A stretch of more than 300 kilometres of the Ba Tonga people’s grazing and farming land was planted with these deadly mines which also killed and maimed people, domestic and wild animals.
According to the Ba Tonga elders, several liberation war fighters also fell victim to the landmines planted along the Mlibizi stretch and were rescued by villagers who also were maimed and lost limbs during their ‘rescue operations’.
The Ba Tonga also had to sacrifice their domestic animals such as goats, sheep and cattle to clear landmines for the liberation fighters to pass.
Elders said many people could not return to their villages and farms after independence. Those who did so pushed their cattle ahead to detonate the mines. They also helped the army where to find the mines for clearance.
Medical help was not always available and elders say for those who were maimed or injured by the landmines artificial limbs were carved from wooden poles, while those who were seriously injured losing both limbs resorted to crawling from one place to another, or are pushed in wheel barrows.
White Rhodesians also regarded the Ba Tonga as a primititive people and used the Zambezi Escarpment as a training ground where they detonated bombs, carried out lethal experiments for malaria drugs and other family planning medication on the Ba Tonga women.
Apart from Mlibizi the country’s borders were also laced with landmines by the Rhodesian army to hinder war liberation war fighters from operating in and outside the country.
The landmines were planted to repel guerillas who were fighting the Tangent, Splinter from the Zambian side into Victoria Falls and Kariba respectively, while Zanla forces in the Hurricane and Thrasher areas were repelled from Mozambique into Mutare and Mount Darwin.
Although the Zimbabwe National Army has cleared the areas of landmines and handed over the cleared pieces of land back to the Ba Tonga for farming and grazing, memories of the brutal Rhodesian operations in the Zambezi Valley has made some of the Ba Tonga reluctant to go back to the cleared land for fear that some mines might still be imbedded in the ground waiting to blow up.
Only a few farmers had returned to the land and others are trickling back although they are not very sure that all the landmines were cleared.
Landmines are controversial because they remain dangerous after the conflict in which they were deployed, killing and injuring civilians and rendering land impassable and unusable for decades.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has sought to prohibit their use, culminating in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, known informally as the Ottawa Treaty. The UN estimates that with current technology, it will take nearly 1,100 years to clear all the mines in the world.
Landmines are produced as “weapons of war,” but only 10 percent of landmine victims are military personnel. The other 90 percent are innocent civilians — mostly women and children. Besides the victims, millions of people are afraid to venture from their homes.
Hundreds of millions of these hidden killers lay usually invisible just underneath the earth or covered by foliage — on roadsides, paths, fields and woodlands
People are unable to plant their fields or even walk to the clinic or visit friends. Children can’t walk to school or play in their neighbourhood.
Landmines lay silent and deadly across many countries of the world, and in most cases no one knows exactly where these indiscriminately strewn killers are.
Across the world, one person is killed every 20 minutes as a result of landmines and unexploded bombs.
This adds up to around 26,000 each year. Many hundreds are also severely maimed every day, usually with a loss of limbs and other injuries to major organs.
There are even millions of mines left over from World War 2. Although slightly easier to detect, because they were made of metal, these 60-year- old mines are still killing and maiming today.
Modern mines are very hard to find because they are made of undetectable plastics and alloys. For example, in Angola the legacy of war, which finished in 2002, has left nearly five million hard-to-detect landmines scattered across the country.

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