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Dripping with blood: the Marange diamond fields

Despite numerous human rights violations in the Marange diamond fields, the area is not classified as producing 'blood diamonds'. But by any ordinary definition, it should be. The diamonds are dripping with blood, as the battle between formal mining companies and illegal panners continues unabated.

Andrew Mambondiyani
23 July 2014
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai speaks at the launch of diamond sales from the disputed Marange diamond fields

Morgan Tsvangirai at the official launch of Marange diamond sales. Demotix/zimphoto Zim. All rights reserved.

The scars were still fresh and so were the horrific memories of the brutal attack. He kept on looking over his shoulders as if to make sure no one was following him. And in a hushed tone Lameck Mtisi said: “I will never be able to fully use one of my hands.”

Mtisi is in his early thirties and one of the many victims of security forces’ brutality in the rich diamond fields of Marange, to the east of Zimbabwe. The Marange diamond fields have received their fair share of international attention because of various human rights abuses in the area.  However the government has consistently and vehemently denied the existence of such abuse.

“Many illegal diamond miners are still sneaking into the heavily fortified diamond fields; working with some unscrupulous law enforcement agencies. But if one is caught, the torture is unimaginable. I was caught while illegally mining with my colleagues and dogs were set on us. The attack was so brutal and after that we were taken and dumped close to the Mutare-Masvingo highway. A good Samaritan gave us transport to a nearby clinic. We never made a police report and clinic officials never asked what had happened to us. They knew. They have attended to such cases on numerous occasions,” Mtisi said.

Despite the concerted efforts by the government to clean up Marange, the diamond fields can aptly be described as an outpost of human rights abuses, as details of brutality perpetrated by the country’s law enforcement agencies continue to surface.

The controversial Marange diamonds in Zimbabwe cannot fit perfectly into the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS)’s definition of ‘blood diamonds’ but by ordinary definition, they can be classified as such. Formal mining companies, most of which are controlled by the government, have become brutal in dealing with illegal miners, torturing and setting dogs on them. Heavily armed police and army officers have pitched tents in the diamond fields for the past five years and with the help of the diamond companies’ security guards, they have been involved in the various human rights abuses.

Most of these abuses have gone unreported and the government has denied their existence, even though some of the victims have come out in the open to reveal their ordeals. For the past five years, the Marange diamond fields have become a place of widespread human rights abuses. All these abuses have been happening far from the prying eyes of the international community. Even though various NGOs have tabled various reports, the KPCS has been conspicuous by its silence.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, in power for the past 34 years, has in the past few years been accused of using revenue from diamonds to entrench his dictatorship. Last year most of the revenue was deposited into his Zanu PF party’s coffers to boost the party campaign ahead of the 2013 general elections, which President Mugabe won under controversial circumstances. His arch-rival, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has since challenged the election outcome in the courts.

While some human rights NGOs, both local and international, have tried to bring all of these issues to the attention of the Zimbabwean government, no action has been taken as the Marange area has become highly militarised. Following the establishment of Marange as a protected area by the government, little information from the diamond fields has been released to the outside world, with Zimbabwe MPs denied entry into fields on numerous occasions. When they were granted access to the area, following reports that diamond companies were discharging toxic waste in rivers used by the communities, the tour was heavily guided and the MPs were denied contact with the affected villagers. After the tour, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy compiled a hard hitting report. In 2013 the chairman of the Portfolio Committee, Edward Chindori Chininga, died in a mysterious car accident.

My investigations have revealed shocking details of human rights abuses in Marange. These abuses have been corroborated by a recent research document released by a local NGO, the Centre for Research and Development (CRD). The research graphically captured over 50 cases of people who were brutalised by the police between January and November 2013.

The arrival of large-scale commercial diamond mining in Marange in 2009 saw the government declare Marange a protected area under the country’s Protected Places and Areas Act. Members of the Marange community have been subject to all forms of harassment and in some cases passes are demanded at police checkpoints for verification purposes. There are also restrictions on public transport and business operations in Marange.

At the moment seven companies have been licensed to mine diamonds in Marange since 2009. These companies are Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources, Anjin Investments, Diamond Mining Company, Jinan, Kusena, and Gye Nyame. Except for Marange Resources, which is wholly owned by the government, all the other companies are joint ventures between the government of Zimbabwe, through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and private investors. 

The communities were anticipating benefits from the rich diamond resources. But they continue to live in poverty with hazardous mining activities that are polluting their sources of water and degrading their agricultural land. Their livestock continue to die from drinking contaminated water from the two rivers, the Odzi and Save, as a result of hazardous substances and sludge disposed into these rivers by mining companies operating in Marange.

And incidents of brutality captured by the Centre for Research and Development are appalling and disturbing. In one incident dating to July last year, Joseph Murisa and Malvin Malema, together with a syndicate of five panners were caught panning in a Marange Resources diamond field. They tried to escape whilst ferrying about 45 kilograms of diamond ore but were arrested by security guards who set dogs on them. The two were taken to the guard room where Murisa forced to engage in physical punishment exercises for the whole night, as punishment for illegally entering the diamond fields. Malema lost a lot of blood due to bleeding from the dog bite wounds on his hands. The two were later freed with serious wounds inflicted by the dogs.

Late last year the Centre for Research and Development tracked down Given Ngaruvhime, who was shot at by Marange Resources on 19 July 2013 after he was found with 12 other panners loading tailings into sacks with the hope of picking diamonds. Information that Marange Resources was using old machinery and not recovering 100 percent of the diamonds from the mines has been attracting hundreds of panners to pan in their tailings. The bullets lodged in Ngaruvhime's arm could have severed some of his nerves leading to paralysis of his hands. Ngaruvhime was living with 8 bullets in his arm because he could not raise money to undergo the necessary medical operation.

These diamonds are dripping with blood all the way to various international markets. And blood continues to be spilt as the battle to control the diamond fields between companies formally mining the diamonds and illegal panners continues unabated. 

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