New evidence suggests that a South African business has muscled into the plundering of diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe.
This follows the Zimbabwe government’s seizure of the claims from mining firm African Consolidated Resources (ACR) in 2006 and the company’s eviction from the Marange diamond fields in the Chiadzwa area barely a year after it began operations.
This prompted a diamond rush, with hordes of gwejas (Shona for illegal panners) descending on the area.
A year ago the military killed hundreds of people and tortured even more in a clampdown on illegal mining activities. Now soldiers are cashing in on the gems.
Last month ACR won a Zimbabwe High Court ruling confirming its right to mine. High court Judge Charles Hungwe ordered parastatal Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation (ZMDC) to stop its mining activities and directed the government to restore the company’s rights.
But ACR still cannot access the fields. Zimbabwe’s minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, was unrepentant, confidently dismissing reports of atrocities and smuggling. “We have nothing to hide. We are going ahead with the exploitation of our resources and nothing will stop us,” he said.
When the SABC’s Special Assignment team travelled the road to Chiadzwa, the minister’s words sounded more and more hollow. The area holds one of the world’s richest deposits of alluvial diamonds; the gems lie close to the surface, making them easy to collect by hand.
Group after group of gwejas, carrying nothing but plastic bags over their shoulders, can be seen heading for the diamond fields hoping for a share in its riches. It is at the risk of their lives. The area is heavily militarised — every few kilometres we were stopped at security checkpoints manned by police and soldiers. Last month a civilian, Moreblessing Tirivangani of Harare, was beaten to death during the rotation of army units who patrol the area.
Said Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Research and Development, an NGO that has been documenting the violations: “Nearly every soldier in Chiadzwa at the moment is involved in panning. They have also formed syndicates so that those panners will get the escort of the military.”
Many diamonds are smuggled into Mozambique. The town of Vila de Manica, 18km from the border with Zimbabwe, is crawling with illegal dealers from countries as far away as Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Israel.
Newly painted houses, bristling with barbed wire and CCTV cameras, are guarded by men armed with AK-47s. Every day streams of Zimbabweans arrive to sell stones stolen from Chiadzwa. They admit they work with army syndicates and Zimbabwean politicians.
The lack of control over Chiadzwa’s diamond fields extends beyond pillaging by the military.
It is understood that a South African scrap metal company, Reclamation, has registered an offshore arm in Mauritius, Grandwell Holdings, which has in turn entered a joint venture to mine the Marange fields under the name Mbada Diamonds with the ZMDC. A Reclamation director, David Kassell, said the claims were not correct but refused to comment further.
Outraged by ZMDC’s disregard of the high court ruling, ACR chief executive Andrew Cranswick said: “Foreign partners are bringing in experts and machinery so that they can rape it for the foreign interests as opposed to national interests. This is the tragedy that has to be stopped.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe faces the possibility of being banned from trading in rough diamonds. In July the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme sent a review team to investigate human rights violations and the looting of diamonds from Chiadzwa. The international watchdog on conflict diamonds found gross irregularities and recommended Zimbabwe’s suspension.
Special Assignment’s programme Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds will air on Tuesday October 27 at 8.30 pm on SABC3