Landmine survivors seek Government intervention

THE kind of life he leads today makes it hard to imagine that he once served in the country’s defence force-the Zambia Army.

After serving in the military for nearly four years, at the age of 22 in 1979, David Matoka of Ikelenge District in North-Western Province, was part of the routine military operations in Chirundu, a border area between Zambia and Zimbabwe, on one of the military operations.
His hopes of ever ascending to the country’s military hierarchy stagnated and can only be viewed as a mere fantasy after an unfortunate incident that befell him.
“It was on November 23, 1979, and whilst carrying out a military operation in Chirundu, I accidentally stepped on a landmine, which exploded, leaving my left leg amputated below the knee,” he recalls.
He was rushed to Siavonga District Hospital, where he spent three months in hospital before being referred to the country’s highest referral hospital-the University Teaching Hospital (UTH).
Following this accident, Mr Matoka was discharged from the defence force on medical grounds, and has lived a miserable life ever since.
“I did not receive my life benefits, now I am living in dire straits, I have no means of livelihood, and I am unable to educate my children,” he narrated.
“I think this is most unfortunate because most countries in the southern African region owe their liberation struggle to Zambia, which played a major role in the liberation struggle,” he lamented.
Mr Matoka disclosed that he has on several occasions written letters to the Zambian Government over the non-payment of his life benefits, but he has not received any feedback on the matter.
“Currently, I have no house, no money, and nothing to sustain my family on,” he added.
Mr Matoka, who is a widower and a father of seven, is now totally dependent on the goodwill of well-wishers such as the church.
In 2012, the church assisted Mr Matoka to acquire an artificial leg, which was fitted in Lusaka at a cost of K750, this was after having endured long years of suffering without an artificial leg.
His plea to the Zambian Government is to assist him get his benefits, so that he could venture into agriculture for a livelihood.
Similarly, 44-year-old Timothy Salungu of Mwinilunga District also of North-western Province has an ordeal to tell about how he lost his limb in an explosion.
This happened at a time when he had successfully completed his driving lessons and was awaiting a possible opportunity to work as a driver in one of the Government ministries in the year 2000, he fell victim to an explosion which left part of his left hand completely damaged.
The accident came about as a result of ignorance on the part of his brother who unknowingly accepted an unknown parcel (metal cylinder-like object) from a friend who told him it could possibly contain some mercury.
“The cylinder, which was concealed in an empty plastic maheu (maize brew drink) container, was given to my brother who was very keen to show me what he thought contained mercury or some unknown treasure,” he narrated.
“After examining this strange object, I decided to place it back in the maheu container, and as I was trying to force it back into the container using my left hand, it exploded leaving my left hand seriously injured,” he recounted.
He only remembers waking up to excruciating pain on his hospital bed, where he was left wondering if there was any hope to save his mutilated hand.
Mr Salungu, who is a father of three, now depends on carpentry for a living instead of driving because his hopes of ever becoming a driver were shattered the moment the doctors suggested to him that they would amputate his hand below the wrist, to save the rest of his hand from decaying.
Unlike Mr Matoka, Mr Salungu has no artificial hand and his greatest plea to the Zambian Government and non-governmental organisations is assist him source for funds to have an artificial hand fitted.
As a result of having only one functional hand, the out-put from his carpentry business does not earn him enough to sustain his family, and there are times when his three children are sometimes forced out of school because of lack of funds.
“I would also want to be assisted to acquire a new set of carpentry tools so that I could boost my business,” he said.
Mr Salungu, now voluntarily works to sensitise people in his area about the dangers of picking up strange objects they find in the bush or their agriculture fields.
North-western Zambia, which borders with Angola, is one of the areas that were largely affected by landmines and other remnants of war, during the civil war experienced in Angola.
According to information gathered from the just ended Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) Convention which took place in Lusaka from September 9th to 13th, there has not been much effort by the Government towards assisting survivors of small bombs in Zambia.
These findings are of course backed by the Zambia Foundation for Landmine Survivors executive director Yona Phiri, who is also a landmine accident survivor.
Mr Phiri explained that his organisation has made several attempts to engage government on the importance of offering assistance to landmine survivors, but that there has not been much progress recorded.
He said attempts by the Zambian Government only resulted in the 2001 Act of Parliament that established the Zambia Mine Action Centre, a component under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no successes have been scored to guarantee victims assistance.
“Although we are aware that the Zambia Mine Action Centre has a budget allocation to include victim assistance, the funds are not being utilised,” Mr Phiri explained.
He explained that because of the delays and lapses in the system to source for victim assistance, his organisation which had sourced funds from the Norwegian government, managed to offer assistance to 16 victims from across the country.
“In phase one of this project, 11 people under-went limb replacement rehabilitation, while in phase two, another five survivors received artificial limbs,’ he said.
He appealed to the CMC to assist his organisation press the Zambian Government to support survivors and victims of accidents that resulted from remnants of war.
These are just a few of the many untold stories of survivors of remnants of war in Zambia.
As much as efforts and assistance made towards their plight and well-being are appreciated, the bigger picture still lies in the hands of the Zambian government to ensure that these concerns are addressed adequately.