Belo Horizonte, which means ‘beautiful horizon’ in Portuguese, is a village in the fertile highlands of the Planalto in Bié Province, Central Angola. Once regarded as one of the agricultural breadbaskets of Southern Africa, productivity ground to a halt when the village was taken over as a base by government soldiers, then subsequently captured, destroyed and mined by opposition UNITA soldiers during the 27 year long civil war.
The local population fled for their lives, many as far a field as Namibia and Zambia.
Since 2009 returning refugees such as 28 year old Judith Fernando have been re-populating Belo Horizonte, drawn by the fertility of its soil and hoping for a return to the rich agricultural tradition of the past. Yet until just two years ago, the scourge of landmines continued to threaten lives, as Judith found out for herself when she accidently initiated a Type 72A anti-personnel mine while tending her crops. Fortunately for her, the landmine failed to initiate properly and she escaped unharmed.
But as HALO Assistant Operations Manager Amadeu Jorge can testify, such accidents do not always have a happy ending:
Sadly I have reported many fatal or incapacitating accidents in my 14 years with HALO.
Happily for the people of Belo Horizonte, the risk of such accidents was eliminated for good when HALO completed clearance of the village in 2014. But in order to make the whole of Angola safe for the 136,000 refugees still waiting to return, a large number of rural areas still need to be cleared of landmines and other unexploded ordnance. Only then can the agricultural sector prosper as it has before, and people come home for good.