De-miners

The Canadian taxpayer foots the bill for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and it is a bill worth footing … well … maybe for CBC Radio. As noted in an earlier “blogue” a favourite is “The Sunday Edition,” hosted by Michael Enright.

I have made mention that “The Sunday Edition,” may surprise with its range of topics, and this past Sunday proved the point. There was a segment on “De-miners” – specialists who are at work in the Falkland Islands – charged with the task of removing thousands of land mines. The mines were laid by Argentine forces during the 1982 Falklands War. The anti-personnel and anti-tank mines totalled some 30,000, and were manufactured in a number of countries. With respect to anti-personnel mines, a mere 5 kilograms of weight can set one off. Penguins that are so common to the Falkland Islands come in under 5 kilos – but sheep are another thing. Given that there are 500 thousand sheep in the Falklands, ewe can imagine the number of casualties.

Below: Falkland penguins. They have chosen to ignore the dangers.
There are two major parts to the typical anti-personnel mine, with a detonator sitting atop an explosive device. Metal detectors are used to locate the mines, which are dug up by hand using a garden trowel. The detonator is unscrewed from the lower portion of the mine, which is then taken away for safe explosion.

The Falklands comprise an archipelago that lies some 500 kilometres from Argentina, and roughly 1200 kilometres from the northern-most tip of Antarctica. The population is just over 3,000 (which works out to more than 150 sheep per inhabitant). Most Falkland Islanders are native born and are of British descent.

The Islands are self-governing, but as a British overseas territory, the U.K. is responsible for defence and foreign affairs.

Beautiful, but cold and windy, and far enough away from the rest of the world; the Falklands might seem forbidding. The Islands were discovered in the 16th century, and have had French, British, Spanish and Argentine settlements. Although the British asserted their rule over the Falklands in 1833, Argentina has long laid claim to its “Islas Malvinas.” In 1982 Argentine forces invaded the Falklands, prompting the government of British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher to spring to action. An “undeclared war” spanned 74 days, with 907 casualties (649 of them Argentine military personnel), with British sovereignty restored. There is much to the history of the Falklands and to the Falklands War, but I will leave that for your own study. Back to the de-miners.

The Falklands de-miners are Zimbabweans. During the fight for independence in the 1970s, a string of land mines was laid along the then Rhodesian border with Mozambique. With independence Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and with that the need to develop a team of highly skilled de-miners. Since that time, the Zimbabwean de-miners have been employed in numerous conflict zones, including Angola, Kosovo, Lebanon, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to remove land mines.

Above, a Zimbabwean de-miner at work in the Falklands (where they are called “Zims”). They are well protected with armoured suits and face shields, and to my knowledge, there have been no fatalities among the Zims as they de-fuse the Falkland mines. Despite the fact that in 2018, some one million square metres of land still had to be cleared of mines, the work is scheduled to be completed in 2020. Argentina has never given up its claims to the Falklands, even now, almost 40 years after the “War.” My thought: let the Argentines have their piece of the Falklands – one million square metres.

A word or two about Michael Enright. At the end of June, 2020, Michael will depart “The Sunday Edition,” after 20 years as its host. “ The Sunday Edition” will remain in place, but it will not be the same without Michael, who will move on to host another CBC radio program, currently in development. Here he is in 2013 receiving the Order of Canada from the country’s then Governor General, David Johnston.