05 February 2013 by Guy Martin - defenceWeb
Landmine clearance company Denel Mechem has recently sold ten CASSPIR 2000 mine protected vehicles to Benin and has 15 on order with the United Nations as it promotes the latest version of the CASSPIR mine protected armoured vehicle.
Mechem is expecting new orders for the CASSPIR 2000 in the next financial year (starting April 1), according to Stephan Burger, CEO of Denel Land Systems (which merged with Mechem last year). “At this moment we are negotiating a number of substantial contracts,” he told DefenceWeb.
The Casspir 2000 is the latest variant of the world renowned armoured vehicle. Burger said the CASSPIR 2000 emerged from the shortage of old CASSPIR Mk 1 and 2’s available for refurbishment. Denel saw a niche as there were no more second hand CASSPIRS to rebuild, yet there is demand for the vehicles. “We decided to build with new technology, more armour, modern instrumentation etc.”
Burger said that now Mechem has merged with Denel, Mechem can spend the majority of its time focusing on getting orders. “We recognised the importance of the Mechem identity, brand and nimbleness. For that reason we’ve kept Mechem as a separate business unit that must get its own orders.”
The Denel Land Systems-Mechem merger was approved by the Board of Denel in June 2012. “We said the best time to make such a change is when things are going well. We decided from a financial perspective that this make sense. The financial gain was impressive,” Burger said of the merger. “Not only did we cut costs but we provide a better service at a lesser price…and we have a better marketing footprint.”
Burger pointed out that in 2006 when Vektor was merged with Lyttleton Engineering Works (LIW) to form Denel Land Systems, the entities were making a R600 million loss. ‘Traumatic’ restructuring saw the staff cut by a third but overheads were halved and the company soon became profitable. “We’re doing tremendously well on the traditional Mechem side with the clearance of explosive remnants of war and selling CASSPIRS as well.”
Mechem specialises in mine clearing, removing the explosive remnants of war (ERW), manufacturing mine protected vehicles (notably the CASSPIR Mk II, Mk IV and New Generation CASSPIR 2000) and mine clearing equipment, and providing canine training and services (for explosives and drug detection). Through its Afrifoot programme, it manufactures and supplies low-cost leg prosthesis to landmine survivors.
The company has recently completed various demining or mine clearing projects in Afghanistan, Republic of Sudan, Republic of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique. Mechem is active in eleven African countries, including the DRC, where it has supported UN peacekeeping activities since 2003, Western Sahara and Somalia, where it works with the African Union.
Mechem is the only African-based company accredited by the UN for landmine clearance, as the rest are based abroad. Since it started African operations in 1992, the company has not lost a single employee to a landmine incident.
According to United Nations estimates, there are at least 110 million active landmine mines scattered across the world, of which about 44 million have been planted on the African continent. In 2010 there were 4 200 victims of landmine’s effects - 11 people a day. However besides landmines unexploded ordnance today poses the greatest risk to the populations in post conflict environments.
Apart from demining work, Mechem is also involved in drug detection through its Mechem Explosives and Drug Detection System (MEDDS). Mechem detection dogs have also been used to combat rhino poaching.