Harare – Demining in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park has been halted due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, The Southern Times has learnt.
The park is a 35,000 square kilometre amalgam of Kruger National Park (South Africa); Gonarezhou National Park Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Area (Zimbabwe); and Limpopo National Park (Mozambique); as well as the area between Kruger and Gonarezhou, Sengwe communal lands in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s Makuleke region.
The trans-border nature of the park straddles mine fields laid during liberation struggles in Southern Africa in the 1970s, and unexploded ordinance remains a threat to both humans and wildlife.
Zimbabwe National Army engineers, who had been demining portions of the park since 2006, were supposed to resume operations in March but could not be deployed because of the emergence of COVID-19.
The sappers – combat engineers who specialise in demining - were recently deployed after authorities were satisfied that health regulations had been appropriately factored into the operation.
The military gets demining support from organisations such as Norwegian People's Aid, Hallo Trust and the Mine Action Group.
Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre national co-ordinator Captain Cainos Tamanikwa said, “The coronavirus outbreak did affect our operations and continues to hamper our demining activities across the country.
“Zimbabwe National Army engineers were supposed to start their demining operations back in March, but, they couldn't do that because of the coronavirus pandemic. First of all, there were issues which needed to be taken into account including protective gear and the issue of social distancing.
"The troops have finally deployed but, the three-month delay has an impact in terms of progress. Furthermore, the process will now be very slow given the sappers will be required to implement safety measures which include social distancing among other things."
Landmines were mostly laid along border areas by minority governments in the 1970s in a bid to frustrate liberation movements, which often operated from outside their home countries.
Anti-personnel mines have killed more than 2 000 people and 20 000 animals in Zimbabwe since that country’s independence in 1980, and demining remains a key operation of the military.
Most affected by the landmines are the Tshangani people, whose home area straddles Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe; while a 220km stretch from Victoria Falls to Mlibizi has been cleared.
Major Shorai Manezhu of the Zimbabwe National Army Engineers Corps said, "There are many impediments to demining activities from the Sango Border Post area to Crooks Corner, and COVID is just one of them. Nevertheless, we will work flat-out to make the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park landmine-free."