BY HOPEWELL RADEBE
THE deadly assault by Islamists in Mogadishu last month, killing three Denel Mechem staff members, has highlighted the dangers of the United Nations (UN) humanitarian programme, says the company’s CEO, Stephan Burger.
Two South Africans and a Somali citizen serving in the UN compound died during the attack on June 20 threatening the security gains in that country that had allowed a slow trickle of foreign aid workers and diplomats to return to the beleaguered city.
The attack happened hardly a month after the kidnapping of its 12 demining staff members in Senegal in May.
The UN and Senegalese government are still battling to secure the freedom of nine employees who were taken hostage. Early last month the rebel group agreed to release three women.
“The tragedy of having our staff kidnapped or killed indicates some of the extremely dangerous situations that our dedicated personnel face in the fields.
“This is besides the fact that they are already out there to work with very unstable antipersonnel land mines possibly hidden in the ground for more than 15 years,” he said.
Mr Burger said children were more vulnerable to land mines because they liked to explore fields and to play.
“I’m humbled by the dedication, sacrifices and loyalty of our personnel despite the harsh conditions in which they operate — some parts of Africa are very hot.” He said it was part of policy to send a small specialised team to a host country and then hire locals and extensively train them in various related skills, including dog handling and demining.
Mr Burger said on Thursday that Mechem had been actively involved in demining services as the only African company to be accredited with the UN for more than a decade.
The firm employs experienced and highly skilled workers and also uses trained dogs to carry out the projects in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Angola, South Sudan, Libya, Benin and the Western Sahara territory.
It is estimated that more than 110-million active mines are still scattered in 78 countries. Buried land mines remain active for more than 50 years.
The UN peacekeeping operations launched a programme for Mine Action Services that entailed finding and destroying land mines, assisting victims and educating people to remain safe in land-mine affected areas.
The removal of land mines has cleared swathes of land, in particular for communities dependent on farming for a living.
Last year, Mechem recorded the highest sales in its history, surpassing R300m. Despite difficulties this year it targeted sales in excess of R360m. Its dog unit recently started training and deploying dogs and handlers in various game parks to assist in the fight against rhino poachers. It also participates in drug detection at the country’s ports of entry.
While Mechem’s main business is demining, the company is still selling one of its most respected Casspir NG 2000 vehicles for detonating antipersonnel land mines around the world. This year Denel signed a contract on behalf of Mechem to supply 45 Casspirs to the Angolan army.