United States Interagency Team Visits South Africa
By John G. Zavales
Office of Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance, Department of Defense
Issue 3.1 | February 1999
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In February 1999, an U.S. interagency team of humanitarian demining experts,
including representatives of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, State
Department, and U.S. European Command, visited South Africa. The purpose of
this visit was to familiarize the team with South African demining research
and development (R&D), and operations; and to conduct meetings on possible
areas of cooperation between the two countries. This initiative was an outgrowth
of the U.S. South Africa Bi-national Commission (BNC), which is chaired by
Vice President Al Gore and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.
Headquarters of the South African National
Defense Force Engineers
The BNC covers bilateral cooperation across the full spectrum of political,
economic, cultural, and security issues. It includes a defense committee,
which addresses joint exercises, peacekeeping, equal opportunity in the military,
civil-military relations, and environmental security. Last August, a three
member South African delegation visited Washington, where they received information
on United States Government humanitarian demining programs and policy. They
also visited Ft. Belvoir to discuss demining R&D and view demining equipment,
and began discussions on bilateral cooperation.
South Africa's Role
South Africa plays a unique and interesting role in the world of humanitarian
demining. While not a mine-affected country, it has considerable expertise
in mine operations (both mine laying and clearing), developed during Cold
War era conflicts in Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique. It is also a world leader
in demining R&D and production of equipment, with an especial emphasis
on mine proof armored vehicles. South African equipment has been used recently
for United Nations demining operations in Angola, and the South African Army
provided training in national level demining program management to INAROE,
the Angolan demining organization.
Overall, the visit was extremely productive and enlightening. The schedule
began in Pretoria, with meetings at the Ministry of National Defence, with
representatives of both the civilian Defence Secretariat and the South African
National Defence Force (SANDF). The U.S. team also visited the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. It became clear that the South African Government, which
was also a major player in the process leading to the Ottawa Treaty, views
mitigation of the landmine threat as a critical security issue -in the region-
and throughout the world. The delegation also had the opportunity to meet
with a representative of the South African Campaign to Ban Landmines. He noted
that, since the Treaty has been signed, most activists in Africa hope to turn
their attention to supporting demining programs. Previously, attention had
been directed towards a concerted push for non-signatory states to sign the
A review of South African demining capabilities, and a history of demining
operations in the region, were provided during visits to the SANDF Army Engineer
Formation and to the Institute for Military Engineering Excellence in Southern
Africa (IMEESA). IMEESA is a non-Governmental, non- profit organization of
retired military engineers. It is now developing a curriculum of courses to
train deminers and program managers. The management courses are based on training
which the SANDF provided to INAROE.
|CASSPIR armored car equipped with various
attachments for vegitation clearance
IMEESA could be a potentially valuable asset for expanding Humanitarian Demining
training, assuming that funding for trainees can be found, and countries in
the region are interested in sending students to South Africa for training.
Despite the perception that South Africa emphasizes R&D and mechanical
solutions, many South African representatives have observed that the value
of technology per se is overstated, and that it is more important to create
effective demining management structures in mine affected countries.
The U.S. delegation also met with ARMSCOR, the acquisition element of the
Ministry of Defence. ARMSCOR, with responsibilities covering all facets of
defense technology, has a division, which is particularly interested in hand-held
detectors (which they were careful to characterize as "metal detectors" rather
than "mine detectors").
The team later visited the production facility of RSD, which manufactures
the "Chubby" mobile mine detection and clearing system. The Chubby consists
of a series of vehicles that detect, mark, and then detonate mines planted
on roads. The lead vehicles are designed to dissipate the force of an explosion,
should one occur, reducing risk to the driver. The wheel assembly, which absorbs
most of the explosive force, can be easily replaced with a spare wheel assembly.
This is towed at the rear of the system convoy. Heavier mine detonation trailers
in the middle of the convoy are designed to set off the mines. In March 1998,
President Clinton during a visit to South Africa announced that the U.S. Army
would purchase several Chubby systems. While the U.S. acquired the Chubby
to assess its applications for military countermine operations, there is also
an appreciation of its value for humanitarian demining. The Chubby has in
fact been used in Angola for humanitarian clearance.
The U.S. delegation spent a total of two days with Mechem, a contractor well-known
for its development of mine-detecting dog procedures, high performance demining
vehicles, and on-the-ground clearance operations. Mechem is currently engaged
in clearing the area around the Massengir Dam in Mozambique, a project funded
by the U.S. State Department and the Government of Japan.
Various mine-proof vehicles, based on chassis of existing military models
such as the Casspir armored personnel carrier, were demonstrated in simulated
clearance operations. The Mechem philosophy is somehat different from that
behind the Chubby. Their emphasis is on using a greater number of fairly inexpensive
vehicles, thus allowing routes to be marked much faster than would be the
case with deminers on foot. Once mines are found, the assumption is that they
would be cleared manually, rather than being detonated by being intentionally
run over. With a variety of vegetation clearing blades, Mechem vehicles can
also be used for a range of off-road clearing activities.
In the course of this visit, several opportunities were identified for reciprocal
cooperation in the area of humanitarian demining. First, it was agreed to
include demining as a formal BNC Defence Committee agenda item, so that progress
in this area can be tracked and expanded in future meetings. South Africa
was invited to participate in an international pilot project later this year,
involving the U.S. and several European partners, to evaluate commercially
available hand-held detectors. Information was provided to IMEESA on U.S.
humanitarian demining training doctrine at Fort Leonard Wood, as a means of
beginning an ongoing dialogue between training facilities. Finally, possible
cooperative efforts between the USG and IMEESA were discussed, including the
possibility of providing demining operations and management training courses
to landmine-threatened countries.
Given the significant mine problem in the region, South Africa has a good
deal to offer its neighbors in terms of training, equipment, and technical
advice. Realizing this potential fully, however, will require overcoming two
obstacles. First, neither the Defence nor Foreign Ministry are specifically
funded to conduct humanitarian demining programs, and overall Government budgets
are extremely constrained. As such, participation by regional states in South
African training or other programs would likely require funding by a third
party. Second, there is still a degree of reluctance exhibited by some countries
in the region to engage with the SANDF, or organizations associated with it,
due to the legacy of the apartheid regime. Because the creation of the SANDF
resulted from the combination of former antagonists, some of the personnel,
military units, and defense companies with the greatest potential to contribute
to demining, have engaged in mine warfare for the old regime. In order for
South Africa to convey its great demining support potential to its neighbor
states, it will need to create teams who fully represent the "new"
South Africa – and their activities will have to be diplomatically presented.
Given South Africa’s enlightened and progressive efforts at demining thus
far, they can clearly make a significant contribution to Humanitarian Demining.
The U.S. trip was a useful first step in expanding cooperation in this area
between the U.S. and South Africa, which hopefully will result in further