Landmine victims, survivors attract President Lungu’s courtesy

MANY are ‘privileged’ to watch bomb blasts among other earth-shattering detonations used by warring factions in battles on television.
Some can vividly recall certain scenes from the 1980s action movie titled ‘Tour of Duty’ depicting the America-Vietnam war where soldiers would sometimes step on a landmine living them in a quagmire on how to disentangle themselves from a waiting blast and imminent death.
For some, if not many, who were unfortunate, an inevitable explosion left them maimed or dead in some cases.
At least this was only an action movie on television seen from the comfort of the house.
It was, however, a harsh reality for Enoch Makabi of Nyeka village in Chief Nyakaseya’s area in Ikeleng’i district in North-Western Province when he stepped on a landmine triggering it to explode.
This was back in 1977 when Mr Makabi, who is now 77 years old, fortuitously stepped on the explosive remnant of war.
Of course, like many other victims in this part of the country, Mr Makabi was not a soldier on the battle front but a neutral victim and survivor of a landmine explosion that shattered his left leg resulting in its amputation.
The undoubtedly excruciating episode also left Mr Makabi traumatised for years.
The landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERWS) were left buried by foreign retreating armies in six of Zambia’s 10 provinces during the liberation struggles in which Zambia played a role.
In what can reasonably be considered a rare episode, President Lungu recently took time to interact with Mr Makabi at his house in Nyeka village.
The President later addressed several other victims and survivors of landmines and other remnants of war explosions in Ikeleng’i, where he acknowledged that the country’s previous “noble foreign policy and legacy” had come at a cost to both its economy and citizens for hosting liberation movements from neighbouring countries.
The head of state was in the company of British High Commissioner James Thornton, Norwegian and French ambassadors Arve Ofstad and Olivier Richard, respectively, who represented the international community.
Military incursions into Zambia’s border areas and airspace by foreign armies conducting offensive attacks on people, homes and installations were a common occurrence in post-independence history.
President Lungu also pointed out that indiscriminate attacks on communities that had absorbed and embraced exiled and displaced neighbours were also common.
Mr Lungu observed that landmines are indiscriminate by nature as they do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and that they affect women and children more.
“While most of the colonial incursions and combative situations ended, a lasting legacy in the form of landmines and explosive remnants of war were left planted in the previously exposed areas and affected communities.
“Over the years, the landmines and explosive remnants of war left buried in our communities have injured and maimed our people, with a considerable number of people losing their lives,” President Lungu observed.
He said the devastating effects of the weapons prompted Zambia to actively cooperate with the international community in the fight against the production, use and stockpiling of landmines and other indiscriminate weapons.
Mr Lungu said the international community is aware of the active role Zambia has played and continues to play in support of all international conventions dealing with weapons that have indiscriminate and long-term destructive effects.
President Lungu said the suffering of families and communities affected by the scourge of landmines also impacts negatively on the social and economic development of communities.
“Communities are afraid to venture in suspected hazardous areas to carry out activities such as farming or livestock grazing. Large-scale infrastructure development and facilities such as transport and communications are also obstructed in the affected areas,” he observed.
The President, however, assured the survivors that their areas are “mostly free of landmines” after clearance of the six known affected provinces.
Zambia Army and the Norwegian People’s Aid conducted a survey in these areas between 2005 and 2009 while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with Zambia Army, has continued to perform on-the-spot destruction whenever there have been reports of landmines or ERWS in the identified provinces.
Mr Lungu urged citizens to continue being alert as some remnants of war such as hand grenades, motor bombs and other dangerous explosives can be found in isolated border areas.
Mwinilunga’s Kabanda area recorded one death from an unexploded ordinance in 2014 while three people were injured after tampering with a hand grenade last month.
President Lungu has since directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and line ministries to identify victims and survivors of landmines and other remnants of war across the country because Government is in the process of devising a strategic plan to help them.
He also commended the international community for its support in the clearing of the cluster munitions in affected areas.
And German Ambassador to Zambia Bernd Finke said Zambia deserves the world’s respect and recognition for selflessly responding to humanitarian needs by hosting huge numbers of refugees.
“President Lungu’s meeting with survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war recalls the years when members of various southern African liberation movements, governments and militia carried out their internal conflicts on Zambian soil,” he said.
And Mr Makabi was happy to be visited and recognised by the head of state and the assurance that victims will be helped to embark on sustainable income-generating activities.
After the unprecedented interaction, President Lungu also assured the victims that Government will also provide them with prosthetics (artificial limbs) which are incredibly valuable for most amputees.
And in typical Zambian style of honouring and appreciating a visitor, Mr Makabi lived up to tradition when he presented President Lungu with two white ‘village’ chickens as he bade farewell.
“I feel honoured that the President visited my house. This came as a total surprise for the President to interact with us…we have shared our problems and I am happy that he has listened to us.
“I will personally be able to effectively do farming and sustain my family once I receive assistance,” the elated father of seven and grandfather of one, whose mobility has been dependant on crutches for decades, said.

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