The special skills employed by Denel Mechem in its demining and improvised explosive device (IED) clearing business have been transferred to Pretoria West ahead of a new housing development.
The Lyttelton-based company was called on to inspect and clear a two million square metre piece of land adjacent to Lotus Gardens. The reason for making use of Mechem expertise is that the land was used by the military as both a training and testing area for various munitions about 60 years ago.
The clearing operation also provides a close to hand test site where newly trained young people can exercise their skills under the tutelage of experienced Mechem trainers and operators.
Mechem was called in by the Tshwane Metro and the contracting engineers who want the entire site cleared of any leftover ammunition and explosives before construction work starts.
“Mechem has a strong track record of working on similar clearance projects in various parts of the world and gladly accepted the opportunity to do work locally,” Zwelakhe Ntshepe, Denel acting group chief executive, said adding once Mechem’s work was complete, Tshwane Metro can get on with building four thousand houses as part of its commitment to service delivery.
Given the size of the property, Mechem decided to follow a three stage inspection and clearance process. The first stage involves a visual and manual inspection on the surface by a team of 20 trained searchers. The area has been divided into a grid and the searchers walk through it metre by metre and detect any piece of metal, shrapnel or device that might pose a danger for people who will live in the area in future.
Twenty unemployed young people who met basic fitness requirements were recruited to conduct the operations. Mechem provided them with a 10-day intensive training course on safety procedures and the methods used to identify potentially dangerous objects.
The team has been deployed in the area for the past three weeks and covers an area of 60 000 square metres per day. Harmless pieces of metal are picked up and placed in baskets but any object that might pose harm is identified and clearly marked on the ground and the co-ordinates entered into a GPS system.
Mechem’s trained explosive ordnance specialists are then sent in to examine the object, clear it in a professional manner or lift it to be safely disposed of later. Once the initial investigation has been completed, Mechem will send in a team of professional deminers – supported by sniffer dogs – to conduct quality control across 10% of the cleared area.
The final stage of the process will involve a “deep search” operation in which Mechem will use technology to find other pieces of metal that might be buried beneath the surface in an area that has stood vacant for decades.
“This is a painstaking and meticulous process,” explained Kouwane Mashilo, Portfolio Manager: Operations at Mechem, who leads the project. The safety of the searchers is the highest priority and the project has to meet the International Mine Action Standards as determined by the United Nations.
Mashilo said the search team has already recovered fragments of military ordnance including four small grenades, a complete mortar bomb and some small arms ammunition. The aim is to hand over a safe piece of land to the City and the developer within two months.
The ten men and ten women who form part of the team will continue with basic demining training on completion of the project. They will then be added to the pool of skilled South African deminers which Mechem can call on for future international clearance missions.