The Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe - An Overview
The Marange diamond fields of Zimbabwe – An Overview
The struggle for power in Zimbabwe is inextricably linked to the discovery of "the richest diamond field ever seen by several orders of magnitude" at Marange. What should have been a means of salvation for the virtually bankrupt country after ten years of chaos that saw world record inflation and the nation brought to its knees has led, instead, to greed, corruption and exploitation on a grand scale, the use of forced labour - both adults and children – horrifying human rights abuses, brutal killings, degradation of the environment and the massive enrichment of a select few.
Initially De Beers had full exploration rights to search for minerals in the Marange communal area in eastern Zimbabwe. Their exploration certificates expired on March 28, 2006, and De Beers did not renew them.
A United Kingdom-registered company, African Consolidated Resources (ACR) subsequently registered exploration claims over the Marange diamond fields giving them exclusive rights to explore and search for diamonds and other precious stones in Marange district. In June 2006, having discovered diamonds, they declared the find, whereupon the government evicted them, seizing 129,400 carats ACR had extracted. They then opened the fields to anyone wishing to look for diamonds. It was estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 illegal artisanal miners were working the land and illegally selling their diamond finds to dealers outside the country.
In November 2006 the government launched a nationwide police operation code-named Chikorokoza Chapera (End to Illegal Panning), aimed at stopping illegal mining. The operation was marked by human rights abuses, corruption, extortion and smuggling.
Two years later on 27 October, 2008, the government launched Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return). Human Rights Watch noted that the operation, involving elements of the Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force and Central Intelligence Organisation, appeared to have been designed both to restore a degree of order and to allow key army units access to riches at a time when the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. HRW reported that the army had killed at least 214 miners, and said soldiers were involved in the smuggling of diamonds.
By November the army was firmly in control and they turned rapidly to forming syndicates, often using forced labour, including women and children.
In July 2009 the Ministry of Mines accepted expressions of interest from companies willing to enter into joint ventures agreements to mine in Marange under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. This resulted in the incorporation of two new distinct companies in which ZMDC [through Marange Resources] had 50% shares: Mbada Diamonds and Canadile Miners Private Limited. Transparent procedures were not followed.
On 4 November, 2010 five officials from ZMDC and a director from Canadile, were arrested over an alleged US$2-billion fraud. Canadile’s operations were suspended, its equipment confiscated and its directors barred from entering the country. The ZMDC, through Marange Resources, assumed total control of the diamond claims held by Canadile.
The government then granted licenses to Sino-Zimbabwe, a joint commercial entity between the Chinese government and Zimbabwe, Anjin, a Chinese company and Pure Diamonds, a Lebanese firm.
It is clear that China stands to gain much from its extensive investments in the mining sector. All revenues from the Zimbabwe government’s joint diamond venture with Anjin over the next 20 years may already have been mortgaged to Beijing to pay off a contentious US$98 million loan to build a vast “techno-spy and communications base”, the Robert Mugabe School of Intelligence, outside Harare.
“Every day millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds leave Zimbabwe from the world’s richest diamond field. But none of that money reaches the country’s desperate poor.
Those who have benefited are: General Constantine Chiwenga, the ambitious army chief; Emmerson Mnangagwa, the wealthy defence minister; the late General Solomon Mujuru, former commander of the national army, and his wife, Joice; Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank and Augustine Chihuri, the powerful police chief. And, of course, the Mugabes themselves.
The figure at the centre of Zimbabwe’s controversial mining operations, the Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, has benefited, too. He has been implicated in extensive fraud, including a US$2-billion diamond fraud case. In March 2010, Mpofu attracted the interest of a parliamentary committee investigating the plunder of the diamond fields when he went on a massive property buying spree.
Given the extent of the well-publicised corruption in Zimbabwe, it is not surprising that the country ranked 134 out of 178 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010. Zimbabwe falls into the Highly Corrupt category, which it shared on a parallel ranking with countries like Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
This is where the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme should be making an impact.
Launched in January 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme was a scheme requiring governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds were conflict-free thus making it more difficult for diamonds from rebel-held areas to reach international markets. The import-export certification scheme required participating governments to certify the origin of rough diamonds and to put in place effective controls to prevent conflict stones from entering the supply chain. Participant countries can only trade rough diamonds with other members. In 2010, 75 governments were participating in the KP.
The scheme relies on consensus-based decision-making, which often means slow progress or inaction on key issues,” explained Global Witness (GW) in its report, “Return of the Blood Diamond” (June 2010).
Consequently, GW noted, “Lack of consistent political will, and outdated and obstructive procedures have prevented the scheme from achieving its potential and fulfilling its mandate – to prevent diamonds from fuelling violence and human rights abuses.”
“Zimbabwe is arguably the KP’s biggest test yet; one that it is currently failing,” GW said.
Its critics consider that the KP’s response to the systematic and gross human rights violations rampant in the diamond fields of Zimbabwe ranges from ineffectual to complicit.
On July 15, 2010, an agreement was reached with the Harare government at the KP meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, to allow two strictly /supervised auctions to take place. In August the first public auction took place during which 900,000 carats of Marange diamonds were sold, worth US$46 million. US-based Rapaport Diamond Trading Network advised its more than 10,000 international diamond buyer and supplier members to boycott …. and threatened to expel and blacklist anyone taking part in the auction.
The Telegraph (UK) noted that the auction went ahead after the gems had been certified as conflict-free by KP monitor Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman, attracting buyers from Belgium, Russia, India, Israel, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Human rights groups said the deal helped to avert a crisis in the international diamond market since President Mugabe was threatening to sell the diamonds without certification.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti told Parliament in his budget statement in January 2011 that US$2- million had disappeared from the second auction, which took place in September 2010 and that the money had disappeared at the MMCZ. He told Zimbabwe Reporter that he “only had financial detail on the two ‘limited’ auctions of gems from Marange held in August and September” but that there had been three subsequent sales which they (MMCZ) have not remitted.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release on November 1, 2010, stating that “the KP should not allow the export of further shipments until there was meaningful progress to end smuggling and abuses by the army.” HRW said they “had learned that the KP team sent in to review conditions in the fields in August ” had been routinely obstructed by government officials from conducting its activities and had been unable to gather crucial information about conditions in the majority of the diamond fields.
On March 21, 2011, Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who took over the revolving position of KP chairman from Boaz Hirsch of Israel, unilaterally authorised Zimbabwe to resume exports of Marange diamonds …. ‘from the compliant mining operations of Mbada and Canadile [Marange Resources]‘. In response, the European Union argued that the decision was taken without due process and therefore could not stand.
In mid April, the South African government declared its backing for the diamond sales and said Harare had complied with international standards.
At the KP’s Intersessional Meeting in Kinshasa during June, the World Diamond Council President, Eli Izhakoff, urged all KP participants to correct past mistakes and return to the core principles that characterised the KP when it was established. In his address, he stressed that the Kimberley Process system was about “humanity, not politics”.
Three days later, however, on 23 June, Voice of America (VOA) reported that KP Chairman Mathieu Yamba had “issued an administrative notice announcing ‘with immediate effect’ the approval of the sale of rough stones” from Mbada and Marange Resources. “The text [also] provided for the quick certification of other companies operating in Marange, some Chinese…. Protesting what they considered to be an abandonment of human rights concerns, civil society observers walked out of the plenary meeting on [the] Thursday, refusing to participate and issuing a vote of no confidence in the [KP].
“We have credible reports of beatings, shootings, dogs being set on villagers and other abuses at the hands of the military,” senior HRW researcher Tiseke Kasambala told SW Radio Africa on June 30. “This [decision by the KP chair] is a terrible tragedy for the KP because it erases all the good work it has done in the past. The fact that it now refuses to deal with broader issues of human rights is a really sad indictment of the institution.
Human Rights organisations have also drawn attention to the fact that the government and the mining companies have failed to provide basic facilities for re-settled families. Some of the families, who have been moved to Arda Transau farm, live in disused tobacco barns where there is no ventilation, let alone electricity or water.
Southern African Resource Watch (SARW) notes that the environment in Marange is fragile and congested, and that the area is very dry with few rivers of any note. Forests have been exploited in recent years, leaving most areas with diminished cover. Dams in the area are silting as a result of the indiscriminate activity of the mining companies and it has been noted that the Odzi River has been polluted and silted by the operations of Canadile.
Despite rampant corruption, smuggling and the looting of diamonds, The Times (SA) reported on 7 August , 2011 that Zimbabwe had entered the top 10 league of the world’s gem-producing countries…. and could yet recover from a decade of economic ruin if good governance is restored.
Zimbabwe is now ranked as the seventh biggest diamond-producing nation in the world, according to the latest global rankings. It produced diamonds worth US$334 million last year. v
Organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the Zimbabwe Blood Diamonds Campaign have called repeatedly for the removal of the army from the Marange district, the demilitarisation of the diamond industry and a return to the rule of law. Finance minister Tendai Biti has stressed the need for the country’s mining laws to be overhauled so that there is greater transparency in the operations of the industry.
Militarised diamond mining and trading at Marange has resulted in loss of life, human rights abuses, corrupt practices and the enrichment of a privileged and powerful political elite.
As a result of the Zimbabwe government’s actions, the world’s diamond industry has been brought into disrepute. ( material supplied by sokwanele.com)
Sokwanele is a Zimbabwean peoples' movement, embracing supporters of all pro-democratic political parties, civic organizations and institutions.