Zimbabwe’s diamonds bleed people

The state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company has cordoned off the Marange area. The plight of villagers has worsened under its watch. Water is polluted, streams diverted and woodlands devastated. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

The state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company has cordoned off the Marange area. The plight of villagers has worsened under its watch. Water is polluted, streams diverted and woodlands devastated. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Diamond production and the trade have attracted the attention of civil society globally for decades because of the testimonies of those harmed by the mining of the gem.

As a result of repeated human rights scandals, abuses and humanitarian law violations involving the diamond industry, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was created to certify diamonds that are free of links to conflict and gross human rights violations.

Diamonds from Zimbabwe, including from the Marange region, are certified by this initiative as conflict-free. But human rights abuses and loss of livelihoods continue to take place in the region.

Since the discovery of diamonds in Marange in about 2006, reports by nongovernmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Global Witness have exposed rights abuses and violations by private security companies hired by mining companies in Marange as well as the Zimbabwean army, police and Central Intelligence Organisation.

At a workshop held at the end of 2016 in Mutare, the capital of Manicaland, more than 40 participants, men and women, shared touching experiences about how they have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the companies that mined in Marange before the government took over the fields in early 2016.

The Zimbabwe government forcibly merged all the diamond operations to form the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC). But, from the testimonies, it is clear that the situation has become even worse since the ZCDC took over.

In Arda Transau, to which most families have been moved, members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on mines and energy and representatives of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) came face to face with the sad story of poverty and deprivation during a fact-finding tour in January this year.

Two days after our workshop in December and interactions with affected people, 26 families were going to be moved outside the mining area. An elderly woman from Chiadzwa said: “These people do not even know where they are going to go; they simply were ordered to pack their belongings and their livestock and to be ready for the day [when they were to be moved].”

International standards about displacement are clear on how relocation should take place: people should be consulted and have access to information when displacement is unavoidable. Likewise, according to Zela, section 74 of the Zimbabwean Constitution prevents evictions from homes without a court order. The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly established the responsibility of companies, particularly state-owned companies, to carry out due diligence to respect human rights.

From the villagers’ testimonies, none of these principles has been adhered to. Most people are unaware that they might have to leave a rural setting to establish themselves in an urban location, where they will not be provided with land or even title deeds for the houses they will occupy.

They are to receive a nominal disturbance relocation allowance of $1 000. Given the poverty of the villagers and that they are presented with no other option, most accept the payment.

In most cases, additional compensation has been verbally guaranteed but only when the ZCDC becomes profitable. But, besides the lack of transparency of the ZCDC’s finances, observers question whether this compensation will ever be paid because no property valuation was done before the villagers were moved.

Civil society groups acted swiftly in response to threatened evictions, condemning the actions of the government and the diamond company. Locals represented by Zela filed a legal complaint requesting the relocation to be suspended until the process is clarified and adequate compensation is guaranteed. Hopefully, these actions will result in better outcomes for the families who for years have suffered the negative consequences of diamond extraction.

The villagers we met also spoke of how they push for “responsible mining” in the Marange diamond fields by monitoring and documenting rights abuses.

When specifically asked about how the effects of mining differed for men and for women, water was the main issue mentioned. Diamond mining has polluted water sources and rivers from which women used to fetch water have been deviated.

“Now they have to walk longer distances to a borehole using more of their time and energy; time they could allocate to other activities, such as crop cultivation,” says one activist.

Something similar has happened with the collection of firewood, as the forest areas previously surrounding their homes have been replaced by huge pits from which the diamonds are being, or used to be, extracted.

The investigating team did not enter the Marange area, which is under tight security control — locals said only authorised vehicles and people are allowed through the checkpoints into the Marange area. The enclosures are reportedly to keep locals from “illegal diamond mining”, but they are also a barrier for advocates and citizens who want to know what is happening inside. The enclosures enable a situation in which human rights abuses can go unreported or undocumented, unless villagers do it themselves.

Three women walking with five children spoke of mining literally taking place in their backyards. One of them raised issues regarding health.

“We suffer because of the dust and the noise. Mining operations are just where our crop garden used to be,” she complains. Undernourished children looked on as their mothers explained how diamonds, which were found nearby by accident in 2006, have badly affected their lives and resulted in the loss of family land.

One would imagine that, after all the negative consequences they have suffered, by now people would be strongly opposed to any mining activity, but they are not. They understand that mining is key for their country’s economic development.

What they request is for mining companies to behave responsibly. Their petitions are more than reasonable: fences to protect children and livestock from falling into the open pits, mitigation of environmental damage, access to safe water, livelihood alternatives (because they are losing their fields to the mining companies), fair relocation practices and rehabilitation of old mining sites.

These are actions companies should undertake to follow the UN’s guiding principles and sectoral standards — actions the government should require to protect human rights.

If the ZCDC was to follow its motto, “Diamonds transforming Zimbabwe”, it might start by improving the livelihoods of the villagers who host their extractive activities.

Joy Mabenge and Karen Hudlet work for the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Nyaradzo Mutonhori and Tafadzwa Dhlakama work for the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

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