Even in winter, areas surrounding the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe can be very hot. Characterized by sparely populated acacia and Mopani trees, Marange and its environs used to carry the very aura of death. But the discovery of diamonds has changed the whole area, bringing it to the attention of the international community, mostly amid controversies and heated debates.
Marange grabbed international headlines particularly after 2008’s Operation Hakudzokwi, which saw the government viciously evicting illegal diamond miners to make way for formal mining in the area. According to the international human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, more than 200 illegal miners were brutally killed.
By early 2009 formal mining began with local communities gleefully anticipating the benefits from such rich diamond resources. But four years on, impoverished villagers are still watching as diamonds are shunted out with little or no benefit to the area.
The much hyped Zimunya-Marange Community Ownership Scheme which was launched by President Robert Mugabe last year has not benefited the local communities either. Instead the communities have complained of the discharge of toxic waste into the rivers by the diamond companies. And the locals depend on the rivers for water, both for domestic use and for their livestock. Hundreds of livestock have died since the start of formal mining in the area with villagers alleging that the deaths have been a result of drinking polluted water.
Even people who come into contact with the polluted water were developing skin ailments. Villagers, with the assistance of a local environmental watchdog, Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association, have since taken the companies to the High Court of Zimbabwe with the view of stopping them from discharging toxic waste into the rivers. The organization commissioned scientific research which confirmed that the water was highly polluted by toxic waste. But the case is yet to be heard at the High Court. Even villagers who were displaced to make way for formal diamond mining have not received adequate compensation from the diamond companies. And the outgoing Finance Minister Tendai Biti from the Movement of Democratic Change revealed that very little revenue from diamonds was going to government coffers.
These developments in Marange have forced many people to ask: “Where is the diamond money?” President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, which has a strong grip on the diamond mining in Marange through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, has been accused of stashing diamond revenue to fund its election campaign prior to the recent general elections. The party refuted the allegations. But events preceding the general elections suggested otherwise, as the party embarked on a well oiled campaign which saw goodies dished out at political rallies and and the whole country flooded with campaign regalia.
Even the party’s candidates were given top-of-the-range vehicles to use during the campaign. There are also allegations that President Mugabe and his party paid a shadowy Israeli company, Nikuv, more than US$10 million to help the party to rig the election. The losing party, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, has since challenged the election results.
It seems that the companies operating in Marange are not yet ready to share information on their operations with the outside world, as they tried to prevent a parliamentary portfolio committee from access to the mines. Company executives have even refused to appear before the committee. The committee’s report revealed that in 2010, on several occasions, the committee invited diamond companies to appear before it. In the face of resistance, the committee was forced to invoke Section Nine of the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, empowering Parliament to issue summons, delivered by the police to a witness to appear before the committee.
The first attempt to visit the mines by the committee was made in April 2010, where it was denied entry. “The first attempt was very unpleasant because the committee was constantly mobbed by security agents during the three day encampment in Mutare,” reads part of the hard-hitting report.
The second attempt was in August 2010, where the committee was denied entry before it had even left the precincts of the Parliament building in the capital, Harare. On both occasions, the committee was denied entry on the grounds that it needed clearance from the police since the area was protected under the Protected Places and Areas Act. Permission to tour Marange was finally granted in April 2012. But soon after the release of a hard-hitting report by the committee in June this year, the chairman of the committee Edward Chindori Chininga died in a mysterious vehicle accident.
“How long can we keep on suffering when we have such a rich resource in our backyard? It is time we benefit from the diamonds. We need better schools, clinics and roads. We need jobs,” a local villager, Jonas Mutsago, demanded. Other villagers, like Neria Runde, are more resigned: “These diamonds are a curse. The earlier these companies exhaust mining the diamonds, the better for us”. She added dejectedly: “We have not benefited from the diamonds. Instead we are suffering; our rivers have been polluted and we no longer move around freely for fear of being labeled illegal miners”.
The Zanu PF party’s strategy seems to be more interested in shifting the blame onto individual greed. Didymus Mutasa, a senior official for President Mugabe, spoke to journalists recently in the city of Mutare: “President Mugabe is aware of the problems in Marange. He is not happy as the diamonds are not benefiting the people in the province.” All rhetoric aside, the situation remains far from resolution. For now the question remains: “Where is the diamond money?”