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Country Reports
NAMIBIA, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

Namibia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honorable Theo Ben Gurirab, signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997. In a statement to the signing ceremony, he said Namibia “will after signing the Convention expedite its speedy ratification by our Parliament. This we will do fortified in the knowledge that Article 1 of the Convention is sacrosanct and stands complete in all respects. Namibia does not produce, use or transfer landmines.”[1] On 21 July 1998, the Namibian Parliament unanimously approved ratification of the ban treaty and on 21 September 1998 Namibia deposited its instrument of ratification, the forty-first country to do so. The country has not adopted national implementation legislation.

Namibia only became “unequivocally committed” to the Treaty after it was on several occasions accused by NGOs of adopting an ambivalent attitude.[2] Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been supportive of the Convention, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) initially urged the Government not to rush into endorsing the treaty.[3] The Namibian Campaign to Ban Landmines (NCBL) and Namibian Red Cross has been active in lobbying for the government to sign, ratify and implement the ban treaty. Namibia participated in the Ottawa Process, speaking in the government session of the Fourth International NGO Conference on Landmines in February 1997 in Maputo, and it also attending the May 1997 OAU Meeting in South Africa and the Vienna, Bonn and Brussels meetings. Namibia endorsed the Brussels Declaration, but it was absent from the Oslo treaty negotiations. It supported the key 196, 1997 and 1998 UN General Assembly resolutions on landmines.

Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

Namibia does not currently produce antipersonnel mines, has never exported AP mines, and has completed destruction of all AP mines except those retained for training, as allowed under the Mine Ban Treaty. Namibia officials refute a U.S. Department of Defense claim that the country produced PMD-6 AP mines in the past.[4] Told of the denial, a U.S. expert involved in compilation of the landmines data base insisted on the veracity of the information, which he stated was based on visual identification of the weapon.[5]

According to Human Rights Watch twenty-five types of AP mines have been reported in Namibia, originating from: Portugal, former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia, former Czechoslovakia, former East Germany, Belgium, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Rhodesia.[6]

Since 1993, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been described by local media as maintaining a huge stockpile of AP mines, various types of projectiles and bombs at the Grootfontein Military Base. In 1993, a military explosive expert was dismissed by Namibian President Sam Nujoma after the latter accused him of leaking “confidential” documents on the poor maintenance of an assortment of unstable and hazardous mines and projectiles said to be weighing 800 tons at the base. Human Rights Watch has obtained two confidential documents, which state that it is unstable and very hazardous. The stores include antitank mines, Claymore mines, POMZ-2 mines, and "obviously suspect wooden PMD-6 mines that had previously been soaked by constant exposure and wet." According to both of these reports, the condition of the arsenal is so unstable that even moving the weapons could be a problem.[7]

The MOD independently transported and exploded 50 tons of AP mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) from the stores in May 1998.[8] What was destroyed could not be independently confirmed, neither by the NCBL nor by the media but the Explosives Unit of the Namibian Police were apparently invited to witness the event. On 12 January 1999 the MOD explained to the NCBL that journalists and other observers were for reasons of safety not allowed in the close proximity of the destruction site near or at Oshivelo Military Base. No environmental standards were observed at the time of the demolition. Nor have costs for exploding these munitions been made public. A “small number” of AP mines have been retained “for military training purposes.”'[9] No further information is available on the retained mines as the MOD declined to divulge the number, the types and location of such devices.[10]


Namibia became independent in 1990 from South Africa, which had administered Namibia under a League of Nations mandate from 1920 to 1966, and illegally since 1966 on a de facto basis. A low level guerrilla war, in which landmines were frequently used, was fought from 1966 until independence. The war typically involved hit and run attacks by the South West Africa People's Organization's (SWAPO) military wing, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), and counterinsurgency sweeps against the guerrillas by South African forces. The first landmine was planted in May 1971, when an antitank mine exploded under a police vehicle near Katima in the Caprivi strip.[11] By the late 1970s landmine warfare was becoming a serious concern for the South African forces. In December 1977 Major-General Wally Blad, the South West Africa Defence Force (SAWDF) Director General reported that South African casualties had increased during the past year following a "significant" rise in the use of landmines. He noted that sixteen soldiers had been killed by landmines.[12] By February 1979, there had been 324 confirmed landmine incidents. SWAPO forces mainly used POMZ antipersonnel mines and TMA-3 anti-vehicle mines. Antipersonnel mines were often laid alongside antitank mines to hamper mine clearance. Interviewed in 1986, PLAN's deputy chief of engineering and demolition justified SWAPO's dependence on landmine warfare by saying that mines are "designed to cope with the situation in which the enemy is infinitely superior in relation to every conventional factor of warfare."[13]

Civilians were the most frequent victims as the South Africans with their sophisticated mine-proofed vehicles, usually escaped heavy casualties. In 1980, 220 Ovambos were killed and another 256 injured in mine related incidents.[14] Landmine warfare continued until the end of the war although by the late 1980s, the war had reached a stalemate. The South Africans succeeded in preventing serious cross-border attacks, while guerrilla activities were sufficient to tie down large numbers of South African troops. Between 1974 to 1989 the South African Engineer Corps reported having lifted and disarmed a total of 1,743 landmines in northern Namibia.[15]

The South African Defence Forces in the 1980s also laid a series of minefields in northern Namibia around military encampments and installations. Maintenance of these minefields proved difficult and contributed to the SADF abandoning plans in 1988 to construct a thirty kilometer barrier minefield along a stretch of the Namibian border with Angola. It was also dropped because the SADF's engineering staff convinced the command that it would be too costly and ineffective.[16]

A number of landmines have been planted in Namibia since independence. In 1996 there were a few reports of newly laid landmines, some of them almost certainly by poachers.[17] In November 1998 the Government accused the alleged Caprivi Liberation Movement (CLM) of plotting to secede by armed force Caprivi from the rest of the country. Alleged members of the CLM had fled to Botswana were said to have been found in possession of APMs. [18]

Landmine Problem

There has been no nation-wide survey or in-depth assessment to date and there are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of AP mines in the country. Namibian officials have said there are no more than 4,000 uncleared AP mines in the eleven known minefields in the northern areas of the country.[19] The United Nations estimated that some 50,000 mines are scattered in Namibia.[20]

Mine Clearance

Mine clearance has been under way in Namibia since 1989 when the first demining operation started in the country. According to statistics from the Police's Explosives Unit, eleven minefields with a combined area of 353,510 square meters had 44,594 mines.[21] Of these, 40,779 were neutralized by the South African Defense Force (SADF) and the United Nations Transition Group (UNTAG) forces during the transition period leading to Namibian independence from South Africa in 1990. If these figures were anything to go by, then 3, 815 APMs remained to be cleared as of 12 January 1999. The MOD, however, maintained that there were only nine known minefields all of which have been "successfully cleared" as of 14 May 1998.[22]

The SADF left no detailed records of where the mines were laid in the minefields, although there are records of the number planted. PLAN did not keep accurate records of where it laid mines. Generally, fences and warning signboards were erected around minefield perimeters. These minefields were all in the far north, around former army and police bases, water towers and electricity pylons.

In late 1989, before the South Africans withdrew from Namibia they made limited efforts to clear the main minefields around their bases by hurriedly driving Olifant tanks, and other heavy vehicles back and forth repeatedly over the minefields. Although this detonated many mines, it was clearly not up to humanitarian standards, under which civilians could safely return.

Landmine clearance was not part of the mandate of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), which oversaw the transition period between January 1989 and independence in March 1990. Landmines were the responsibility of an Australian engineer unit which cleared some of the minefields in Ondangwa. They also put up some new fences sand repaired fences around ten minefields. A publicity campaign followed asking local residents to leave the fences, parts of which were stolen, intact.[23] A year later most of these fences were gone.

In March 1991, a controversial twelve month R3.4 million contract was awarded to Namibian Blasting Agents, a Windhoek based firm to clear the minefields around the SWAWEK powerlines.[24] The mines turned out to be more numerous than expected: 8,122 R2M2 and 1,086 No.69 South African-manufactured antipersonnel mines were reportedly found and destroyed. The Namibian Blasting Agents used a bulldozer and roller method to clear many of the mines. Two deminers were lost limbs during these operations and live mines were found afterwards.

The Namibian Police had the responsibility for destroying any ordnance (including landmines) not associated with an active military base or activity since independence. Limited resources and personnel have precluded systematic mine clearance by its Explosive Disposal Unit, but despite such limitations Nampol reported having cleared 167 antitank mines and 531 APMs between 1989 and 1998.[25] As of June 1998 the Explosives Unit had a backlog of over 600 UXO reports throughout the northern parts of the country.[26] The Explosives Unit as of September 1998 had not received all the twelve 4 x 4 vehicles promised them by the U.S. embassy in order to help tackle the pervasive UXO problem.[27]

The U.S. also assisted in 1995 in the setting up of a National Demining Liaison Committee to coordinate the national program, collect data, set priorities, and monitor all mine related issues. The Liaison Committee has one Police Liaison Coordinator and one NDF Liaison Coordinator attached to it. However, at the outset the emphasis of this Committee was media relations rather than clearance priorities.

In 1994, the Namibian government invited a U.S. Department of Defense Demining Assessment Team to visit Namibia and provide it with mine clearance training assistance. A Memorandum of Cooperation between the U.S. government and the Namibian government over mine clearance training was subsequently signed in February 1995.[28]

In March 1995, a team of U.S. military explosive experts from the Army Special Forces arrived in Oshakati to start an eight week mine clearance training project. The U.S. team withdrew in September 1995, leaving behind a small evaluation team. The primary objective of the project was to encourage the NDF to professionally engage in national mine clearance programs rather than leave it to Nampol. [29]

According to the U.S. Department of State, the program started with a donation of $1.2 million in equipment and training assistance to the Namibian government, and since 1995 has included the provision of military specialists as part of a train-the-trainer program. By mid-1997, 135 deminers, twenty EOD personnel and twenty medical personnel in mine/UXO clearance and emergency medical treatment had been trained.[30] The U.S. has provided US$7.2 million for mine clearance equipment, training of military de-mining personnel as well as mine awareness material since the program began in 1995; another $1.5 million is projected for 1999.[31]

This program was not without controversy. At Ruacana township the NDF cleared 102 mines (fifty-five by bulldozer, forty-eight by hand) at Hurricane base 192 mines (ninety-nine by bulldozer and ninety-three by hand). But South African data indicated that 648 mines were unaccounted for at Ruacana and 209 at Hurricane base.[32] Still, in December 1995, the NDF announced Ruacana was safe and the protective fence around it was removed. Tragedy struck soon afterwards when a twelve year old boy lost his leg, walking across this so-called 'cleared' area. Accidents continued in so-called "cleared" fields in 1996. In March 1996, the NDF suspended its operations because of accidents.

Since late 1995, 2, 383 APMs and 1,107 unexploded ordnance (UXOs) have been cleared from the nine known minefields around former SADF military bases in the northwestern areas of the country. If these figures are accurate, 1, 432 mines are still unaccounted for and may be in these so-called 'cleared' minefields.

The U.S.-sponsored mine clearance operations attracted further controversy in its second phase, clearing the burns and minefields around the 409 power pylons. In March 1998, the U.S. government sent a prototype machine, a Berm processor, to assist with the demining of the berms around the pylons. In theory, the vehicle mechanically scoops up dirt and shakes out the landmines, leaving them exposed on the ground for deminers to clear.[33] In fact, these operations have been hampered by the lack of appropriate tools and equipment.[34] Speaking on the occasion of the US-sponsored mine awareness campaign on 18 September 1998, Lt. Col. Martin Nashandi, commander of the mine clearing engineering regiment, admitted: “We thought that we can go quickly and smooth as we have done with the open minefield. To our surprise and disbelief the tools and equipment we had were so much inferior.”[35]

However, in a phone interview with the NCBL, a spokeswoman of the U.S. Information Service in Windhoek stated in December 1998 that the "berm processor" was working "perfectly well."[36] A U.S. concept brief on the processor was not so upbeat about it, saying that this machine can only be used with other mechanical clearance equipment, such as wheel loader and a bulldozer—with only some 60 percent success rate.[37]

The sole recipient of this U.S. funding has been the Namibian Government and the bulk of the money has been spent in the U.S. on the manufacturing of de-mining equipment, procurement of computers and related software as well as printing of T-shirts and other APMs risk education material. The exact amount of the money spent locally is not known.

Mine Awareness

In 1990, the Explosives Unit of the Namibian Police launched a radio and television campaign in order to warn residents about the dangers of UXOs in the northern areas of the country. This campaign succeeded in reducing the number of casualties in the contaminated areas. In 1995, the government launched a second campaign, which included the distribution of T-shirts and pamphlets warning the public about the dangers of explosives. The campaign was supported by $1.5 million from the U.S.

On 18 September 1998, the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Defense, with US financial, technical and material support, re-launched the mine awareness campaign featuring the distribution of 120,000 pieces of promotional material, including pens, rulers, T-shirts and hats and numerous other similar items.[38] Those items were, however, mainly distributed in modern schools in some of the contaminated northern parts of the country. Whereas a large number of Namibian children attend schools in the inaccessible parts of the contaminated areas of the country were not taught about the dangers.

This promotional material, worth some US$140,000, was only available in the English language, a language very few people read in the affected areas.[39] The slogan Don't Touch It, Report It which was written on many mine awareness campaign items was not entirely effective. A large number of UXO casualties and or injuries occurred not when victims 'touched' UXOs but rather when they struck or threw stones at those explosives and or by setting them on fire.

The U.S. Government has also donated over U.S.$250,000 worth of computers and graphic software as well as providing professional training to Government employees. U.S. Ambassador George Ward, Jr. said that altogether some US$200,000 would be spent on the 1998-1999 mine awareness campaign in the country.[40]

Landmine Casualties

In addition to livestock and other property, AP mines and UXOs constitute also a serious threat to human life. There are, nevertheless, no reliable statistics on the actual number of survivors in the country. However, according to the MOD 105 people have so far been killed and 246 others injured in mines and UXO explosions between June 1989 and September 1998.[41] This means that, on average, Thirty-five people a year, three people a month are killed or injured in mine or UXO explosions, in a population of some 1.5 million. Since 1991, casualty rates have dropped by 90 per cent from a post war high of twenty-three deaths and forty-one injured in 1991 to two deaths and ten injured in 1997. In 1998, the number of dead and injured rose.[42] Over 86 percent of all the casualties was caused by UXOs.

Namibians have also become landmine victims abroad. On 26 November 1998, the Ministry of Defence, in a press release, announced that two members of the NDF were injured in the DRC after one of them detonated an antipersonnel mine. In the same statement the Ministry accused Uganda and Rwanda of using APMs in violation of international law.[43]

Landmine Survivor Assistance

There are over 2,000 war disabled including civilians. For people in need of prostheses, there is a modern hospital and workshop in Windhoek. The workshop runs and outreach program to three northern centers. Few resources have been spent on mine survivor assistance in the country. According to the director of social services in the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS), Batseba Katjiuongua, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, regardless of whether they are mine survivors or not, receive on a monthly basis a disability and/or pension grant equivalent to some US$28.[44]

At the same time, Katjiuongua also informed the NCBL that children with disabilities under the age of 16 are left to be cared for by their parents. Whereas children under especially difficult circumstances are cared for by the MOHSS in accordance with the provisions of the country's Children's Act. The Government has not yet adopted a national legislation on persons with disability.

Landmine victims find it particularly difficult to survive in an economy with 45 percent unemployment. Despite training programs, as little as 5 percent of war disabled have found employment, often because employers discriminate against their disability.[45]


[1]Speech by the Honorable Theo Ben Gurirab, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Signing Ceremony, Ottawa, 2-4 December 1997.

[2]“Government accused of ‘ambivalence’ on key issue,” The Namibian, 16 October 1997, p. 1-2.

[3]See Minister of Foreign Affairs, Theo Ben Gurirab, letter to Phil ya Nangoloh, National Society for Human Rights, 10 March 1997; and “No rush to sign landmine treaty ... ,” The Namibian, 9 April 1997.

[4]U.S. Department of Defense, “Mine Facts” CD Rom.

[5]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.112; Vernon Joynt, director of Mechem, claimed that South Africa produced PMD-6 mines in the past and assembled them in South West Africa. The MUV fuzes were produced in South Africa.


[7]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.113 - citing PROC GEN/EOD/93/4. Confidential Report on Inspection of Ammunition and General Visit, Grootfontein Military Base, by Col D.W.J Radmore, 17-18 March 1993.

[8]“Nam edges closer to being proclaimed landmine-free,” The Namibian, (Windhoek), 31 August 1998.


[10]The Honorable Erkki Nghimtina, Minister of Defence during meeting with NCBL, Windhoek, 12 January 1999.

[11]Guardian, (London), 25 May 1971.

[12]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.105.

[13]The Combatant, July 1986.

[14]Paul Moorcraft, African Nemisis: War and Revolution in Southern Africa 1945-2010 (London: Brassey's, 1990), p.227.

[15]Jannie Geldenhuys, A Generals Story: from an era of war and peace (Johannesburg: Johnathan Ball Publishers, 1995) pp.184-85.

[16]International Committee of the Red Cross, Anti-personnel Landmines: Friend or Foe? a study of the military use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines (Geneva: ICRC: 1996), pp.31-32.

[17]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.123.

[18]Namibian, (Windhoek), 5 November 1998.

[19]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.116.

[20]UNDHA, Landmine Database, Country Report: Namibia, March 1997,


[21]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.115.

[22]Speech on Mines Awareness, by Lt Col MK Nashandi, Co Engr Regt, Oshikango, 18 September 1998.

[23]Namibian, (Windhoek), 9 March 1990.

[24]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, pp.113-114.

[25]Namibian Police Explosives Unit,' Destruction of Unexploded Ammunition, Antipersonnel and Antitank Mines, 1989 to 1998,' Windhoek, Nampol, 1998.

[26]Mines Advisory Group, Namibia, (Cockermouth: MAG, 1998) p.5.

[27]"Remarks by U.S. Ambassador F. Ward, Jr., Re-launch of the Mine Awareness Campaign," Oshikango, 18 September, 1998.

[28]Human Rights Watch, Still Killing, p.119.


[30]U.S. Department of State, Landmine Database, Comprehensive Report: Namibia, 26 August 1997, p.4.

[31]U.S. Department of State, “Demining Program Financing History,” 11 January 1999.


[33]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers, pp.41-42.

[34]'Mine Awareness Campaign,' Lt. Col. MK Nashandi, Co. Engr. Reg., Oshikango, 18 September 1998.


[36]NCBL telephone interview with USIS spokesperson, 8 December 1998.

[37]Mines Advisory Group, Namibia, (Cockermouth: MAG, 1998) p.11.

[38]"Remarks by U.S. Ambassador George F. Ward Jr. Re-Launch of the Mine Awareness Campaign," Oshikango, 18 September 1998.

[39]"Statement by Hon. Ben Amathila, Minister of Information and Broadcasting at the Re-launch of the Mine Awareness Campaign," Oshikango, 18 September 1998.

[40]Namibian, (Windhoek), 3 March 1998.

[41]"Re-launch of the Mines/Unexploded Ordnance Campaign, 1998," Information Campaign on Mines & UXOs, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 23 September 1998.

[42]Namibian Police Explosives Unit,' Destruction of Unexploded Ammunition, Antipersonnel and Antitank Mines, 1989 to 1998,' Windhoek, Nampol, 1998.

[43]'NDF members wounded in the DRC,' Press Release, Ministry of Defence, Windhoek, 26 November 1998.

[44]Batseba Katjiuongua in a telephone interview with Mr P. ya Nangoloh, 14 December 1998.

[45]Pam Zinkin, "The War, disability, and rehabilitation in Namibia," in Rosemary Preston (ed.), The Effects of War in Namibia (Windhoek: Namibian Institute for Economic and Social Research, 1993), pp.7-1 to 7-29.