/ 25 June 2010

Zim defiant about diamond export

Zim Defiant About Diamond Export

Zimbabwe is set to defy Western opinion and sell off its billion-dollar diamond stockpile just as the true scale of the country’s vast diamond wealth is beginning to emerge.

A meeting in Israel to decide on the fate of diamonds from the Marange fields reached a stalemate by late Wednesday, but Obert Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s mines minister, said the country would go ahead and sell its diamonds.

It is not for nothing that Zimbab­we is anxious to start trading its diamonds. According to a new report by an international diamond expert, it can produce up to a quarter of the world’s diamond wealth. It is news that will either cheer a country that has been denied international aid to fund its economic recovery, or raise the threat of an even more bitter battle for control of the diamond fields.

Chaim Even-Zohar, head of renowned Israeli diamond consultancy, Tacy, told the meeting of the Kimberley Process diamond watchdog that his first-hand investigation of the diamond fields indicated that Zimbabwe could be sitting on more diamond wealth than was previously thought.

“Presenting some figures on the diamond potential of Zimbabwe, Even-Zohar considered that the country has the potential to become a supplier of some 25% of the global diamond supply in terms of value within just a few years,” a statement released after Even-Zohar’s presentation said.

His assessment chimed with an earlier statement from the African Diamond Council, a group of African diamond producers, which said large international diamond producers had underestimated Zimbabwe’s diamond wealth.

“International mining companies have inaccurately overlooked Zimbabwe’s diamond potential and several global diamond organisations have been taken aback subsequent to recognising the government’s competence to stockpile more than 5-million carats [of] rough diamonds,” the council’s chairperson, André Jackson, said.

De Beers gave up concessions in the Marange fields in 2006. The company has said the deposit “did not fit the profile of our other activities elsewhere in Southern Africa”.

The concession was taken over by African Consolidated Resources, but the government later seized it, sparking a row that has now brought Zimbabwe’s diamond trade on to the international stage.

On Wednesday Mpofu told the Kimberley Process (KP) meeting: “I would like to take this opportunity to advise that Zimbabwe will be immediately exporting its diamond stockpiles because we are KP compliant and we need the money to drive the economy forward.”

Process members were divided along familiar fault lines: Zimbabwe secured the support of African countries, Russia, India and Brazil, and opposition came from the United States, Australia, Canada and the European Union.

Zimbabwe’s supporters said the process should abide by the controversial recommendation of Kimberley Process monitor Abbey Chikane to allow Zimbabwe to resume trade, but Western nations back a push to have Zimbabwe banned for human rights abuses in Marange.

The Zimbabwean government accuses the West of blocking diamond sales in order to prevent any economic recovery, which would ease the pressure on President Robert Mugabe.

A blanket diamond ban on Zimbabwe would not affect only companies mining in Marange. A unit of Rio Tinto owns a diamond mine in central Zimbabwe, into which it recently ploughed $300-million in new investment. River Ranch Mine, co-owned by top Zanu-PF figure Solomon Mujuru and Saudi billionaire Adel Aujan, mines diamonds near Beitbridge.

The arrest of Farai Maguwu, head of a non-governmental organisation that monitors the movement of gemstones from Marange, increased Zimbabwe’s isolation ahead of the meeting. Maguwu is charged with publishing and passing on false information, a charge that carries a maximum of 20 years’ jail.

High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu refused him bail this week, arguing that Maguwu faced “treacherous and abominable” charges.

Maguwu could not attend a remand hearing on Wednesday because he was recovering from a tonsil operation he had last Friday.