What started as a normal day for Dzinon Sibanda of Gwaivhi village in Chikombedzi ended with him almost knocking on heaven’s doors after he stepped on a landmine 14 years ago. Sibanda had gone to look for his lost cattle in a nearby forest
but the search changed his life forever when he stepped on a landmine and lost his right leg.
Despite the accident occurring on one hot afternoon in 1998, memories of that day still haunt him and his anger piles.
Sibanda does not mince his words when it comes to the issue of landmines. He is full of condemnation for Rhodesian forces for ever laying landmines in the area.
Fourteen years down the line, his wish is to know the people responsible for the landmines so that he can claim compensation.
He narrates his ordeal to The Herald.
“I had gone to the forest to look for my cattle and I suddenly heard a thundering and shattering sound. Out of shock I ran for about 50 metres.
“By then I thought I had escaped my attacker but was surprised that I was in fact lying down and my right leg was missing,” Sibanda recalls.
A few minutes later he felt some sort of wetness and excruciating pain below his waist then realised that something was wrong.
“I screamed because what I saw terrified me. I realised that I had lost my leg to a landmine. I started crying and shouting for help a few minutes after coming out of my confusion and asking myself lots of questions
“I crawled to a nearby bush where I managed to remove tree leaves and barks, which I used to tie my leg to stop the bleeding,” he said.
By midnight Sibanda was still lying on the same spot and used leaves and tree branches to cover his injured leg and body from the vagaries of the night.
Only the exhaustion made him sleep.
“When I woke up the next morning I saw a human skeleton which was clutching a rifle lying next to me. Fear gripped me but I was in so much pain and had lost a lot of blood that I could not move. I think that I was just hallucinating.
“Around mid-morning I started to feel weak, thirsty and tired when I heard faint voices from a distance.
“I started shouting again at the top of my voice, but it was faint according to the search party.
“After what looked like an eternity I started hearing the voices getting closer.
“I knew they could only get to a certain distance for fear of being blown off.
“I summoned the little power I had, pulled myself out of the bush and started shouting and waving.
“It is then that one of them heard me. I called again and they saw where I was,” he added.
The search party told him to crawl towards them since they were also afraid of the landmines.
Sibanda crawled for a distance of about 15 metres to where the rescue team was and fainted.
Still unconscious, he was carried to the hospital using a scotch cart where his leg was amputated and treated. After a week, the wound started going bad so doctors had to cut it again. He was to stay at Chikombedzi Hospital for three months.
Sibanda said upon his return from hospital his life took a different turn. He was now walking on an artificial limb and clutches and was no longer able to do the chores or play games with his friends.
Such is the life of many Zimbabwean landmine victims who are among the majority of the people calling for an increase in demining campaigns.
Areas along the country’s borders are littered with landmines, which have restricted movement, farming and grazing.
Major Innocent Taguta, the officer commanding Gwaivhi mine clearance squadron operating the Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park said demining was a task that
demanded an individual soldier to be totally focused, brave and dedicated.
“Each day has new challenges when dealing with landmines no matter how experienced you are. It is critical to remind each other of the safety precautions before we start work.
“I personally talk to my men to judge their emotional preparedness, how excited or afraid they will be to conduct the exercise daily. If I realize that my sapper is not emotionally prepared or is stressed he is automatically excused from entering the minefield,” he said.
He said safety was paramount at all times during their operations.
“I make sure an ambulance is nearby, an evacuation aircraft is also ready in Harare to come and airlift an injured deminer for special treatment in the capital city on a daily basis,” Maj Taguta said.
He added: “Each deminer is then kitted with his safety clothing and equipment that include safety boots, groin protector, face shield, chest and leg protector which work like an overall.”
Currently, the deminers day starts at 5am and ends by 11am because the areas they are working on are very hot and heat usually causes discomfort and
drowsiness increasing their risk of being injured.
They work in groups of two so that they can comfort, advice and help each other as they carry out their risky task.
Each team is equipped with a landmine detector, a trowel, and a soft brush and safety marker to guide their route.
“Our day’s work has started again comrade, and it promises to be very hot. Did you call your girlfriend Grace before we came here? I have phoned mine, Portia, and cut our conversation short when she started begging me to quit this dangerous job today,” said the deminers as they headed for work and successfully removed an anti-personnel landmine in Gonarezhou.
The minefield they are working on is unmarked and there are no maps to show where the minefield starts and ends. Under the circumstances even seasoned military deminers usually think twice before venturing on such a mission.
Unfortunately duty calls for these young men and the nation is waiting and looking forward to them to ridding Zimbabwe of these lethal metal vipers.
Maj Taguta said that after a deminer is injured the whole squadron immediately stops work.
They carry the injured to the airstrip by an ambulance and have the patient evacuated to Harare by air. The squadron will retrain trying to learn from the mistake that got their colleague to get injured and return to the minefield after two days.
Since 2006, five ZNA deminers have suffered serious injures which range from facial, hands and legs, some deminers have had their legs amputated.
Corporal Munyaradzi Mapako Makoni who is part of the Crooks Corner land minefield clearance squadron now in its second consecutive year gave his first experience.
“When I first came here, I barely slept that night because I could not believe that I was going to make it in the minefield the next day.
“During our training we were always told that if you work carelessly or with a half heart you would face your reward in the minefield.
“At the minefield we were briefed on the safety precautions and given our safety clothes and kit. I almost opted out after our commander asked if there was anyone who did not want to go into the minefield. I only threw away the idea after I observed Private Peter’s hand was down. He used to be a coward during training,” Corporal Makoni said.
He added: “As I held the detector, I knew our lives depended on me. Suddenly I heard continuous whistling sound and realised we had encountered a landmine.
“I carefully placed the detector down and armed myself with a trowel and soft brush. Slowly I started cautiously cutting the edges slowly, my hands were already sweating.
“When I saw its head emerging my heart skipped a bit, I was still contemplating my next move when my colleague shouted Comrade zvatoita, just remove that soil and hand me the mine.
“I gathered the little strength remaining in me and reached for the landmine, I could hear my heavy heartbeat.
“I handed it over to my friend and I sighed. I felt a breath of fresh air and happy that I had done it, my first proper demining activity,” remembers corporal Makoni.
On that day alone the team reaped 120 mines and from that day onwards the job has been easy for corporal Makoni.
Unlike our workdays that start at 8am and end at 5:30 pm, theirs begin at five in the morning ends at 11am when they trade demining equipment for sporting activities.
The activities include soccer, darts, chess and watching favourite European soccer league teams on their Digital Satellite television, which is powered by a generator.
Cases of people injured by landmines may decrease, thanks to the Zimbabwe National Army who decided to reclaim the land for the people.