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Deminers tell their story

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Members of the demining team of Mine-Tech answer some student questions |
22 January 1998

The following questions are answered by Eric Mlambo with some explanation from Michael Laban. Eric is a 34-year old deminer (Team Leader) from Chipinge (so he is not too far from home in Dombe). He has a wife and six month old daughter. He has been with Mine-Tech since 1994, and previous to that he was a personnel clerk. He is also an ex-combatant from Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. He has just returned to Harare from Dombe.

Are you scared when you do your job?
ERIC: When I do my demining job I am not scared because I was trained in this discipline. I have done this job for ages now and am quite experienced.

Do your families go and stay with you?
ERIC: We don’t go and stay with our families. We normally see our families after 42 days when we come for rest and recuperation.
MICHAEL: Mine-Tech operates on a ‘42 days on, 10 days off’ schedule. Between operations there may be a considerable stand down period when people go home for weeks.

Do you risk your life every day?
ERIC: Of course we risk our lives when demining.

Do you like your job?
ERIC: I like my job very much because I am saving lives, especially children. Youngsters are vulnerable to landmines because they are inquisitive.

How long does it take to get rid of one mine?
ERIC: There is no specific time required to get rid of one landmine as it depends on the type of machine (detector), soil, as well as the terrain on which a deminer is working. But once the mine is detected, it is destroyed in situ.
MICHAEL: That is to say, it takes less than a second to get rid of a mine, but it may take days or even weeks to find it.

How are the sites to be demined chosen and by whom?
ERIC: The client will choose sites to be demined and priority is given to sites that are near schools, fields and water sources.
MICHAEL: Actually, it is more involved than that. Together with GTZ, the German Agency for Technical Development, the IHD team, which includes Sr Saul of the CPD, set priorities based on the needs of the Province of Manica, as given by Sr Saul, who liaises with the Governor. This will determine target villages. Below that, sectors of minefields within the target village are selected according to the priorities given by Eric above. Funding plays a large part in setting priorities. We can only clear what we have funds to clear.

Which tools/accessories do you use most?
ERIC: We use mine detectors (metal detectors), prodders, garden shears, dogs and explosives.

Why don’t you use old army tanks?
ERIC: We don’t use old army tanks because are not one 100 percent since they are not meant for demining landmines.
MICHAEL: There are many reasons we do not use them. The prime reason is as Eric says. Even when they are fitted out for mine clearance, or even mechanical devices specifically designed for mine clearance, they cannot clear ground to the UN Humanitarian Standard of 99.6%. They may only clear up to 70%, which is acceptable for military operations when trying to achieve a military objective with minimal casualties. However, we are looking for nil casualties. Mechanically-assisted demining can be very useful, but they have to be followed by hand clearance (as do dogs) and machines are limited by access (minefields are often remote and in very difficult terrain), cost, and other factors.

Michael Laban and Eric Mlambo
IHD Team Harare


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