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Where Ian Smith still rules

16 Apr 2017 at 17:41hrs | Views

THREE decades after Independence, villagers in Mudzi district still live in terror of the seeds the colonial military sowed in their soil.

Here, Ian Smith - dead and buried - still controls people's lives.

Movement is restricted, even livestock cannot graze as freely as it would in other parts of Zimbabwe. Large tracts of land lie fallow, the rich soil nourishing weeds and wild grasses even as people go hungry. Tree branches sag under the weight of ripe fruit, while at the base of the trunks spoiling produce adds manure to already fecund earth.

This is landmine territory.

Mahwinei Chareka (57) is still haunted by the day she ventured into a landmine-infested part of the village.

"This area is heavily infested with anti-personal mines planted in the 1970s by the Smith regime during the liberation war. Unfortunately, I am a victim of these anti-personal mines and I have lost a limb as a result," Chareka says.

"It was in 2000, I accidentally stepped on an anti-personal mine on my way home from collecting firewood. I remember a deafening sound and I fell down. At that moment I felt no pain, it was when I tried to stand that I realised I no longer had a leg.

"The leg was completely shattered, only tiny broken bone fragments showed evidence that I once had a leg. I had never seen so much blood in my life. I think due to shock I immediately became unconscious."

Though Chareka has learnt to live with her disability, it is the emotional wounds – the trauma – that may never heal.

"Three years after the accident, my husband (name provided) left me. He would often say I was now an embarrassment in the family, that he could not publicly declare that I was his wife," she narrates in a low voice.

"One morning I woke up to an empty house, he had left. I was three-months pregnant with my last child who is now in Grade Seven.

"I was hurt and up to this day I still have nightmares. I often dream about losing my other leg and the deafening sound often recurs in the dreams. I am afraid my children might end up crossing into restricted areas. As such they are always within in my sight whenever possible."

In villages such as St Pius, Nyahuku, Mkota and Nyakabao, the minefields lie as close as 30m from the main road.

Warning and danger signs are pasted on trees and rocks, and villagers dare not walk on the other side of the road.

Located close to Mozambique, Mudzi district witnessed much of the fighting during the Second Chimurenga as colonial forces tried to stop liberation forces from entering the country from Zimbabwe's eastern neighbour.

Minefields were a strategy of choice for Rhodesian security forces.

The minefields were mapped, but some records were lost during the 1980 transition from colonial Rhodesia to Independent Zimbabwe.

At independence, Zimbabwe was left with six distinct major mined areas along its borders with Mozambique and Zambia.

Zimbabwe Mine Action Clearance (Zimac) reports that anti-personnel mines were laid in very dense belts of as much as 5 500 mines per kilometre. Chief Mkota (Mr Amos Tsuro) told The Sunday Mail Extra recently that, "The younger generation in the area are victims of a war that ended years before they were born and they are captives in their own land. We have resorted to distributing land to areas that are less fertile, that receive less rainfall compared to land in the restricted areas.

"It is sad to note that many decades later we are still feeling the Rhodesian forces' cruelty, there are so many disabled people in the area and we are appealing to the Government to do something about the issue."

Zimac estimates that between 1980 and 2014, at least 1 561 people were killed or injured by mines, and more than 120 000 heads of livestock and thousands of wild animals were also lost. The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, to which Zimbabwe is signatory, set 2025 as the deadline for the worldwide clearance of these most horrible of weapons.

In 2016, it was reported that every year since 2010, US$500 000 had been committed to fund mine clearance in Zimbabwe.

It estimated that approximately US$15 million is required annually from 2016 to 2024 to meet the mine ban convention target.

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