Newly-trained young people temporarily employed by Denel are clearing a former military training ground for a new housing development in Tshwane. The programme offers short-term employment for 20 young people and will add to the pool of skills available to Denel for its international demining operations.
Denel Mechem has been called in to inspect a two million square metre piece of vacant land next to Lotus Gardens in Pretoria West that has been earmarked for new community housing. Mechem is a global leader in demining and clearance of unexploded ordnance and has participated in UN-led demining operations in countries such as South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Zwelakhe Ntshepe, Acting Group Chief Executive of Denel says the land where the housing development is planned was used as a military training ground more than 60 years ago. “The City of Tshwane and the contracting engineers – Impande Engineers – wanted to ensure that the entire area is cleared of leftover ammunition or explosives before the contractors can start their work on site. The City is planning to build 4 000 houses in the Lotus Gardens and Elandsfontein area,” says Mr Ntshepe.
“Our Mechem business unit has a strong track record of working on similar clearance projects across the world and gladly accepted the opportunity to investigate a local property and take the necessary steps to ensure it will be safe for use by government towards service delivery,” he says.
Given the size of the property Mechem decided to follow a three stage inspection and clearance process. The first stage involves a visual and manual inspection on the surface by a team of 20 trained searchers. The area has been divided into a grid and the task of the searchers is to walk through it metre by metre and detect any piece of metal, shrapnel or device that might pose a danger for people who will live in the area in future.
Twenty unemployed young people who met basic fitness requirements were recruited to conduct the operations. Mechem then provided them with a 10-day intensive training course on safety procedures and the methods used to identify potentially dangerous objects.
The team has been deployed in the area for the past three weeks and cover an area of 60 000 square meters on an average day. Harmless pieces of metal are picked up and placed in baskets but any object that might pose harm is identified and clearly marked on the ground and the coordinates entered into a GPS system.
Mechem’s trained explosive ordnance specialists are then sent in to examine the object, clear it in a professional manner or lift it to be safely disposed of later. Once the initial investigation has been completed, Mechem will send in a team of professional deminers – supported by its sniffer dogs – to conduct quality control across 10 percent of the cleared area.
The final stage of the process will involve a “deep search” operation in which Mechem will use technology to find other pieces of metal that might be buried beneath the surface in an area that has stood vacant for decades.
“This is a very painstaking and meticulous process,” explains Kouwane Mashilo, the Portfolio Manager: Operations at Mechem who leads the project. The safety of the searchers is the biggest priority and the project has to meet the International Mine Action Standards as determined by the United Nations.
Mashilo says the search team has already recovered fragments of military ordnance including four small grenades, a complete mortar bomb and some small arms ammunition. The aim is to hand over a safe piece of land to the City and the developer within a two month period.
The ten men and ten women who form part of the team will continue with basic demining training at the completion of the project. They will then be added to the pool of skilled South African deminers which Mechem can call on for future international clearance missions.
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