Why is Rodgers Mandava, a Zimbabwean de-miner, in the Falkland Islands? This British Overseas Territory is comprised largely of people of British ancestry, and 8,400 kilometres away from his homeland.
But, Rodgers’ story is not unlike the millions of workers who move across international borders every year. Conflict is all too often the reason for this international migration pattern.
The people of Zimbabwe persevered through a prolonged fight for independence in the 1970s that left a belt of landmines along its borders. As is often the case, local people like Rodgers are trained to remove the mines. Zimbabwe developed a cadre of highly skilled local de-miners who have since exported their expertise to conflict zones around the world – Mozambique, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and Lebanon.
Then came the Falklands Islands. With a population under 3000 people, and low unemployment, Islanders did not show much interest in the dangerous work of removing 25,000 land mines left over from the 1982 war between Argentina and Britain.
Rodgers was recruited as a supervisor of a crew of his countrymen to remove the mines. When they arrived, they were welcomed with big smiles, and touted for their bravery. Over time, they developed an excellent reputation with the Islanders.
Before the Zimbabwean de-miners arrived in Falkland Islands, it was rare to see black people on the streets of Stanley, the capital city. Some of the men sent for their wives, and they have now developed a small community, speaking their native Shona language. Some of the youngest members of the community were born in the Falklands.
The mines are expected to be removed in 2020. But what will happen to Rodgers and his crew after the job is done? Some are likely to stay. But whether Rodgers and the other de-miners return to Zimbabwe, they have made a lasting impact on the Falkland Islands. Its beaches have been safely restored to match the tranquility of its white sand, turquoise water, and grassy dunes, thanks to these brave men.
Rodgers' 8,400 km trek to the Falkland Islands is yet another example of the power of labour migrants in our increasingly connected world.