South African deminers achieve major success in global conflict zone


Demining teams from Mechem have lifted more than 23 000 landmines over an eight-month period on the eastern border of Turkey. 

Demining teams from Mechem have lifted more than 23 000 landmines over an eight-month period on the eastern border of Turkey. This is regarded as one of the most significant achievements ever in the field of humanitarian demining.

Each of the potentially deadly devices is detected and removed by hand at a rate of more than 200 a day. Since demining operations started in 2016, there has not been a single fatal or serious injury to any of the team members.

Zwelakhe Ntshepe, acting group CEO of Denel, says this is a major achievement that confirmed Mechem’s reputation as “a world leader in creating a safer world”.

“The number of landmines removed is unprecedented in global terms. Such targets have, in the past, only been achieved in areas where large stockpiles were destroyed – and not in cases where the mines have to be detected and physically removed from the ground.

The company, a business unit of Denel Land Systems, has previously been responsible for demining operations as far afield as Mozambique, Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Mechem team in Turkey consists of 160 staff members who specialise in the manual lifting of the unexploded devices. Their success has been achieved despite the fact that Mechem is not allowed to use some of the most potent in tools in its demining toolbox – mine detection dogs and its Minewolf flail machine.

The Turkish contract is part of global efforts to clear anti-personnel mines from Turkey’s eastern border with Iran. Many of the mines were placed there more than 50 years ago to prevent cross-border smuggling, but current instabilities in the region, aggravated by the flow of refugees from the civil war in Syria, have heightened the need for professional demining. The work is further complicated by the fact that there are very few accurate records available on where the mines were planted.

Mechem arrived in Turkey in mid-2016 and was able to clear about 9 000 landmines in the first four months of its operations. The extreme weather conditions during the Turkish winter make clearing impossible for up to four months a year.

Since its return to Turkey in May, the deminers removed the deadly devices at a rate of about 200 per working day. By the end of August, a total of 23 000 landmines were lifted and rendered harmless.

Ntshepe says the significance of Mechem’s work has to be evaluated against the deadly destruction causes by landmines and explosive devices in conflict and post-conflict zones across the world. In most cases, the civilian population is the primary target, especially in an area where displaced refugees are fleeing from hostilities.

“We have now removed a further 23 000 potential landmines from our planet,” he says. In terms of global statistics, these devices would have killed at least 2 300 people, and close on 21 000 could have lost a limb, destined to spend the rest of their lives on crutches.

“The Mechem team in Turkey are true ambassadors for South Africa who are saving lives of people in very difficult and dangerous conditions. South Africa should be very proud of the achievements of these brave men and women,” says Ntshepe.