When Princess Diana walked across a minefield in Huambo in central Angola 1997, she helped raise awareness for landmine victims and survivors — and bring about a treaty to ban the weapons.
At the time, her son Prince Harry was just 12 years old. Now, the 35-year-old prince is visiting the same part of the world to see what has been achieved and the continuing need to de-mine vast areas, those who covered Diana’s landmark trip says it was a key moment in her life.
On Thursday, Harry visited the exact site where his mother walked — now a vibrant community, with several colleges, schools and small businesses.
“It was a time when Diana was striding out on her own and finding causes that she believed in,” says Jennie Bond, who was alongside Diana reporting for the BBC on the trip in 1997.
“This was something she really thought that she could make a difference about.”
After his poignant walk, Harry said: “It has been emotional retracing my mother’s steps along this street 22 years on, and to see the transformation that has taken place, from an unsafe and desolate place into a vibrant community of local businesses and colleges. This is a wonderful example of how the U.K. partnership with Angola can address the issue of landmines, bringing prosperity to an area, creating jobs, helping people access education and healthcare, and making communities safer. The work of de-mining is dangerous, expensive and laborious, and I have the utmost admiration and respect for all who do this hazardous work and risk their lives in service of their community.”
He continued, “I am incredibly proud as I know my mother would’ve been, of the role that the United Kingdom has played in this transformation through funding and the expertise brought by UK specialist organizations such as the HALO Trust and Mines Advisory Group.”
For Diana, it was also a controversial cause. At home in the U.K., a junior government Cabinet minister called her a “loose cannon” as she raised the issue, which critics saw as a political stance and not a humanitarian one.
Walking along a street with buildings pockmarked from shells and explosions, Bond famously thrust a microphone out and, with a camera running, asked for Diana’s reaction.
“She said, ‘Jennie, I’m only trying to help. I’m a humanitarian,’ “ Bond recalls.
In June, Harry, 35, mirrored that sentiment in a passionate speech in on the issue.
“Let’s not forget, landmines are a humanitarian issue — not a political one,” he said at an anti-mining conference in London.
The HALO Trust — a pioneering charity that specializes in the removal of the deadly debris of war — will host Harry on Thursday, as they did his mom Diana. The organization works in 10 provinces of Angola and has destroyed almost 100,000 landmines since it began operations in 1994 following a 22-year civil war. There are estimated to be 1,104 minefields remaining in the country, covering an area of more than 26,000 acres.
After her visit to Angola, Princess Diana wrote a letter to the British Red Cross saying: “If my visit has contributed in any way at all in highlighting this terrible issue, then my deepest wish will have been fulfilled.”
Harry’s visit “both acknowledges his mother’s tremendous legacy to landmine victims worldwide, and firmly picks up the baton to continue her vision of a world free of mines,” James Cowan, the organization’s CEO, says.
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Bond adds, “He has drawn that from his mother. She was a heroine. The iconic image of her going through the minefield – she was not seriously in danger but it was a dodgy, dodgy place and there were landmines everywhere. And now Harry is following in her footsteps.”