Gotsi, is a village of around 100 families in north-eastern Zimbabwe that lies a few hundred metres from a dense barrier minefield close to the Mozambican border. The landmines were laid during the Liberation War of the 1970s by the then Rhodesian regime to prevent insurgents crossing into the country.
Although it receives little publicity, Zimbabwe is one of the most highly mine-impacted countries in the world. In Gotsi there have been five mine accidents in the last ten years – three of them fatal. One of the survivors is 11-year old Observe Butau. Observe lost his right hand and the thumb of his left hand in a mine accident in 2015.
“He found a mine and picked it up,” says his grandmother Alice [below, second from left]. “It blew up in his hands and he was taken by ambulance to hospital and on to Harare. The hospital director says we have to pay them $2,800 for the surgery or they will take our possessions.”
Most Gotsi families farm maize, sorghum and cotton on plots that typically range from one to seven hectares. In a good year, a family can earn an annual income of between $300 and $800 – but the last four harvests have been increasingly poor due to persistent drought. This year the maize harvest failed completely, and now the villagers are struggling to feed themselves.
In summer 2016 Alice, 59, formed a small group in the village to bring women together to work on livelihoods projects during the drought. The women are now employed to cut and paint the wooden sticks that are needed to mark the minefields around the village. “For each 200 sticks we cut we are paid ten dollars,” Alice explains.
The landmine threat is one problem that will soon be over for Gotsi. Over a dozen local men and women from the village are currently working as deminers, earning five times the typical local income, and the 1km section of minefield closest to Gotsi village was successfully cleared in late 2016. Alice and her women’s group are now proud to be earning extra money for their families whilst contributing to the effort to finally rid their community of the landmines that have plagued the area for decades.