Village of the Disabled

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By Chrispin Inambao RUNDU Dikungu, 180 km east of Rundu, is far from being a textbook example of a typical African village, where groups of women pound corn with babies firmly strapped onto their backs and packs of dogs bark at anything and everything in motion. This settlement has no free-ranging chickens and there is no livestock nor children running around, save for its three inhabitants – a man and his wife, who both had their limbs blown off by anti-personnel mines (APMs) planted indiscriminately by former Unita bandits; and the third resident of this sleepy settlement, boasting a handful of tiny thatched huts, being an elderly woman who is not of much assistance because her eyes were blinded by cataracts. The couple are a grim reminder of the carnage wrought by bandits from the then rag-tag rebel Unita army that caused untold suffering among hundreds of villagers whom they maimed, raped, murdered and stole their property before the NDF put a halt to their activities. A maroela tree towers over five grass huts dotting this settlement whose inhabitants say they only catch a glimpse of Kavango Regional Governor John Thi-ghuru who serves as councillor for Mukwe Constituency when he speeds past them on the highway nearby. At the time New Era stopped to interview the couple a transistor radio was relaying messages in a local vernacular while old batteries were placed in the sun to recharge. They are deprived of children because one of their children, a girl, died when she was merely four months old, and their son died at the hospital at Andara while he was on treatment. A mine, planted at night on a bush-path most frequented by villagers along the banks of the Kavango River, blew off Rware Shamparo’s right foot reducing it to a bloody mess of flesh. The incident that also left her with a huge unsightly scar on her left foot happened one December morning while she was on her way to the river to fetch water for her family. This is not the only of her disabilities because she is also one-eyed as a result of an injury in the right eye that she does not recall much about because it occurred during childhood. As usual she set off from her village to attend to her wifely chores and while in the vicinity of the riverbank there was a deafening explosion and she was tossed high into the air. From there she has a foggy recollection of what followed because she had lost so much blood and she fainted from the excruciating pain from the explosion that resulted in her foot being amputated as doctors could not do anything to save what remained of her foot. The landmine incident occurred at around noon and shortly thereafter villagers living near the site tried to investigate the source of the explosion and to their utter disbelief they found the unconscious, bloodied woman bleeding profusely from the daytime explosion. Villagers from Kapako Constituency were among the worst affected by the attacks. At the time the scene of the explosion could have been mistaken for the butchery. Rware Shamparo only regained her senses at midnight at Andara Hospital where she had been transported so that she could receive proper medical treatment for her severe injuries. With the amputation that took place at the state hospital at Rundu she spent six months in hospital before hobbling home on a pair of new wooden crutches issued by the state. Since this incident she can do little for herself and even for her husband who also suffered a similar fate in the same vicinity of the river when he had wanted to draw some water. In the case of Rware Shamparo’s husband Mwara Kambathi he is in the worst of predicaments because both his feet were blown away by an anti-personnel mine. In 1999 when a string of misfortunes befell his family, he had decided to go to the river for a swim after he completed a number of energy-sapping communal activities. But while in the same area where his wife lost her foot, he tripped on a mine and the next thing he remembered was a loud explosion followed by being surrounded by nurses. After his ordeal he was given a wheelchair that he uses to get by but this contraption is not so helpful because there is no-one to push him and the area around Dikungu is very sandy. There nearest relatives stay in an area thirty-five kilometres away and they rarely visit them. The couple and the elderly blind woman who despite her advanced age has yet to receive the N$370 paid to elderly people, say to get water from a tank mounted several hundreds of metres across the busy Trans-Caprivi Highway could be life-threatening due to traffic. And it has been ages since they last received drought relief food meant for the vulnerable. Because all of them are disabled they are normally compelled to make a crude meal from boiled grains of millet, instead of the thick porridge made from the flour from this staple. “A lot of people from nearby villages know about our problem and they only pray for us, because they are just as poor like us and we don’t expect much from them,” they say. The elderly woman who moves by crawling on all her limbs is Ngombe Mangundu who is Rware Shamparo’s mother. She moved in with them when all her belongings were burnt in a hut fire where she lost all her belongings and her national documents. When asked why they could not apply for new documentation the couple said Rundu is too far way and that they are simply too poor to afford the bus fare to the provincial capital. The police officer in charge of explosives in Kavango Region, Inspector Andreas Shilelo, says hundreds of people have suffered injuries from the mines planted by the former rebels from Unita while 62 people had had their feet amputated because of mines planted in Mukwe, Ndiyona, Mashare, Kapako, Kahenge and Mpungu – constituencies bordering Angola. Among the injured were fifty cotton workers whose truck drove over a tank mine at a cotton field in the area around Omega, said the explosives expert when contacted at Rundu. And during this infamous campaign of terror that took place between 2000 and 2001, six Namibians lost their lives when their vehicles drove over anti-tank mines (ATMs). Explosives experts managed to diffuse around 160 APMs on top of the forty or so ATMs that were disarmed in that area. Several explosives intended to sabotage government infrastructure, some fitted with time-delay fuses, were diffused in that area. Despite the donor-funded demining exercise that benefited that region the police inspector says it will be utterly impossible to detect each and every mine unless there was a map from the people who planted them to pin-point the deadly devices. He said this is not peculiar to Namibia because even several decades after WW2 there are remnant mines from that era.