Princess Diana – Walking Across an Active Minefield

Diana walks across an active land-minefield in Angola in 1997 | Courtesy of Pinterest

Picture a princess. What image comes to your mind? Something out of a Disney movie, right? Carriages, designer dresses, star-studded balls, and monumental weddings are some of the aspects that depict the mainstream image of royalty. Now picture a princess…in a war zone. In early 1997, Princess Diana of Wales found herself standing beneath the pungent Angolan sun, away from the luxuries and gala events, where she cast off her royal attire for protective body armor and a visor. Princess Diana of Wales shed a momentous light on one of the most unnoticed atrocities of the African continent: landmines. That single action of hers, on that day, still resonates for us today, long after her untimely death.

Darkness had fallen on the lives of many innocent African communities. As disputes between villages turned into wars, public areas were replete with tragedy and death. In the mid-1990’s, three-dollar weapons called landmines were terrorizing the innocent—claiming twelve thousand civilian lives and causing the highest number of amputees in the world. Landmines are placed during these armed disputes, concealed underground to destroy or disable enemy targets.1 Although the armed combats in Angola had ended, the war “debris” continued to threaten people’s safety. People were dying regularly from leftover landmines, but few outside Angola knew anything about them. These mines would remain “live” for years, even decades, waiting for unsuspecting victims, as per their design, causing unimaginable suffering and pain.2

Diana talks to a group of Angolan landmine victims in 1997 | Courtesy of Flickr

The African people were in desperate need of a solution. They needed a defender. Their cry for help was heard, reaching the gates of Kensington Palace. It was none other than Princess Diana—keen philanthropist and self-proclaimed Queen of Hearts—whose life purpose had become to shed a humane light on controversial issues such as AIDS and homelessness. “I’d read the statistics that Angola has the highest percentage of amputees anywhere in the world. That one person in every 333 had lost a limb, most of them through land mine explosion.”3 The moment Princess Diana became aware of this neglected tragedy, she knew exactly what she needed to do: take immediate action. “I have all this media interest, so let’s take it somewhere where they can be positive and embrace a situation which is distressing like this.”3 In early January 1997, she flew to Angola along with the Red Cross and a BBC camera crew.

A fearless Diana put herself in the midst of one of the most dangerous places in the world, thousands of miles away from the royal guard, protected solely by a riot helmet and a flak jacket given to her. Accompanied by local anti-landmine activists, she was taken to see a land-mine clearing operation in Huambo, central Angola.5 This was a royal, who spent a large part of her life in luxurious settings being served by others, who was personally stepping into filthy fields to deactivate mines, serving those whose lives were shattered by the deadly weapons. As she pushed the button to detonate a single mine, she uttered the words “One down, 17 million to go.”6

Angolan Deminer who showed Princess Diana how to detect mines | Courtesy of Flickr

After the cameras stopped rolling, Diana didn’t. The fight to ban antipersonnel landmines became a personal crusade, one that would fill the last year of her life.7 She made this clear in the last speech she ever delivered, stating, “The more expeditiously we can end this plague on earth caused by the landmine, the more readily can we set about the constructive tasks to which so many give their hand in the cause of humanity.”8 This public light shed by Diana brought nothing but success, influencing countries to come together to pledge millions of dollars to tackle the destruction caused by landmines, as well as bringing 122 governments from around the world to contribute to the passage of the Ottawa Mine Treaty. Landmines are still an issue of global concern, but Diana remains the most influential face of anti-landmine activism.

  1. Isebill V. Gruhn, “Land Mines: An African Tragedy,” Journal of Modern African Studies, no. 4 (December 1996): 688.
  2. Stuart Maslen, Mine Action after Diana: Progress in the Struggle Against Landmines (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 15.
  3. Heart of the Matter: Diary of a Princess, directed by Karina Brennan (UK: BBC, 1997).
  4. Heart of the Matter: Diary of a Princess, directed by Karina Brennan (UK: BBC, 1997).
  5. Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security, 2004, s.v. “Unexploded Ordnance and Mines,” by Mike Lambert.
  6. Johnna Rizzo, “How Princess Diana Crippled The Case For Land Mines,” Newsweek, Oct. 24, 2015.
  7. Johnna Rizzo, “How Princess Diana Crippled The Case For Land Mines,” Newsweek, Oct. 24, 2015.
  8. Diana, Princess of Wales, “Responding To Landmines:  A Modern Tragedy And It’s Consequences” (keynote address, Mines Advisory Group and the Landmine Survivors Network, London, June 12, 1997).

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82 Responses

  1. Princess Diana is one of my favorite historical figures because she spoke about many issues that other people were too afraid to talk about. She should be the image that pops up into your head when you hear the word ‘princess’. She fought for real issues even if it meant putting her life in danger. She was a princess for the people. She always put ‘the people’ before herself and that is what made her so special. She wanted to make a change in the world and she did. She truly changed the world and I wish more people were like her.

  2. I really like the first sentence of how it got me when it asked to think of a princess, and how the first thing I thought was actually a Disney princess. It was interesting to read about how a royal decided to fight for something seemingly crazy and life-threatening, regardless of their social status. Her statement in her speech is very inspiring, and I hope we can have more brave people like her in the world.

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