BBC Online Network BBC Homepage BBC News BBC Education BBC World Service
Diana - one year on Home Sights and Sounds Your thoughts Q & A Reporter's reflections Visit Althorp Contribute
Abroad
Africa

Chris Simpson
LUENA - I kicked myself when I heard Diana would be going to Angola. I'd left the country nine months earlier and could not make a case for going back. Along with many other Angola-watchers, I sneered a little as the media circus gathered steam and read with wry amusement the tabloid versions of a country I'd lived in for three years and had yet to shake off. But I also felt I'd missed out. Diana amongst the landmines was a terrific story. I knew she'd be visiting places and meeting people I'd known, some of them all too well.

Sure enough, the man who guided Diana through the minefields of Kuito was Paul, the leader of the anti-landmines group, the Halo Trust. Quick-tempered and low on diplomatic finesse, he'd already shown Madeleine Albright and Lynda Chalker how to blow up a mine. I too had put on the Halo body armour and followed a group of bemused Angolan de-miners as they went about their work. I hoped Paul had watched his language with his Royal visitor. He hadn't, of course. But he was grudgingly impressed with Diana: "Very sensible, did the job," he said. "I think people liked her".

Others agreed. Even those who had privately disapproved of her visit, suspecting a search for headlines and a dilution of the issues, admitted they were impressed both by Diana's ability to confront the landmines issue and to try and understand what it was like to lose a limb, to be maimed by a metal disk hidden in the ground.

In Angola you sometimes feel you can't move for mine victims. You also don't have to go far to find stories of amazing courage. Equally prevalent are stories of seemingly impossible adjustments made to keep life on the move. But mine victims are not all stoical survivors. Known simply as the "amputados", or "mutiladosquot;, the victims often hobble across the traffic, soliciting change from weary motorists. A negative response might result in a crutch being brandished at the windscreen. But you get used to them. I know I did.

During the war, every provincial hospital would have beds reserved for those who had stumbled into the minefields. Visiting cities like Luena, Malange and Kuito, you got used to the stained mattresses, rusty bed-frames and foul-smelling wards. But you never got used to the doctor or orderly pulling back the sheet to reveal the stump beneath.

Angolans are generous with their time and testimony. But I remember the horrible feeling of intrusion as a colleague and I filmed a woman in Luena who had been hit that morning. Her wounds looked raw and beyond repair. The sense of giddy horror and the grim banality of her story was overwhelming. All she had done was go out looking for food in the surrounding countryside

I also remember Isabel, young and far too pretty. She lay in a scratch hospital in the town of Kuito, the bravest and most battered of all Angola's cities of war. She grinned at the tape-recorder and explained how she had lost her leg to a landmine - and how soldiers at a road-block had laughed. Halfway through her explanation she broke down: "Too many people have died here. Can't they understand that?"

Three years later Diana came to Kuito. In the interim, the fighting had stopped and the town had picked itself up, despite having buried more than 15,OOO of its residents. The Halo Trust had become one of the city's biggest employers, beginning a long campaign to empty the minefields and make the countryside safe.

Outside Angola, the landmines issue was prompting conferences and international resolutions. Governments finally were beginning to yield to the growing sense of outrage. Inside Angola, people were getting on with life, still living with the dangers, coping quietly and resourcefully.

Diana, it seems, could see the links. She saw the individuals behind the statistics. In the end, that probably counted more than she realised.


Middle East

Africa

Asia/Pacific

SouthAsia

Americas

Europe