Special Assignment's programme "Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds" will be broadcast on Tuesday 27 October at 8.30 pm on SABC 3 (South Africa)
Broadcast: Special Assignment - SABC
Time: Tuesday 27 October. 8.30 pm
Tuesday's Special Assignment exposes the blatant disregard for the rule of law and continued plundering of the diamond fields in Eastern Zimbabwe. New evidence suggests that South African firms have muscled in, and are mining there illegally.
"We have nothing to hide. We are going ahead with the exploitation of our resources, and nothing will stop us," said Zimbabwean Minister of Mines, Obert Mpofu, confidently dismissing reports of atrocities and smuggling from the diamond fields in Eastern Zimbabwe.
Travelling the road to Chiadzwa, his words sound more and more hollow. The area holds one of the world's richest deposits of alluvial diamonds. The gems lie close to the surface of the ground, making them easy to collect by hand. It is hard not notice the "gweja's," the Shona term for illegal panners. Group after group of young men, carrying nothing but a plastic bag over their shoulder, head for the diamond fields hoping for a share in its riches. It is at the risk of their lives.
The area is heavily militarized and every few kilometres one is stopped by a security check point, manned by police and soldiers. Only last month, Moreblessing Tirivangani, was beaten to death during a rotation of army units who patrol the area.
A year ago the military killed hundreds of people, and tortured even more, in a brutal clampdown on illegal mining activities. Now soldiers are cashing in on the gems.
"Nearly every soldier that is in Chiadzwa at the moment is involved in panning in one way or the other. They have also formed syndicates so that those panners will get the escort of the military and they continue panning with the protection of the soldiers," says Farai Maguwu, Director of the Centre for Research and Development, an NGO that has been documenting violations in Chiadzwa.
Many of the diamonds are smuggled into Mozambique. The town of Vila de Manica is only 18 kilometres from the border with Zimbabwe. It is crawling with illegal dealers from countries like Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Guinea, DRC, Nigeria and Israel. Newly painted houses, bristling with barbed wire and CCTV cameras, are guarded by men armed with AK 47s. Every day streams of Zimbabweans arrive to sell their stones, stolen from Chiadzwa. They admit it is with the help of army syndicates and senior government politicians.
The lack of control on the diamond fields of Chiadzwa, extends beyond pillaging by the army. Last month, mining firm African Consolidated Resources plc. (ACR) won a High Court ruling confirming their title to the Marange diamond fields. In 2006, the Zimbabwe government seized the claims from ACR and evicted them from the diamond fields barely a year after they had begun operations.
High Court Judge Charles Hungwe ordered the Zimbabwe Minerals Development Corporation (ZMDC)to stop its mining activities and directed the government to restore African Consolidated Resources' right to mine in the area.
ACR has still not been able to gain access to the diamond fields. The Zimbabwe Mineral Development Corporation has signed a shady joint venture with a Mauritian off-shore company, Grandwell Holdings. They are operating under the name Mbada Diamonds. Behind it all is a South African scrap metal company, Reclamation, who is understood to have spearheaded the deal. Any diamonds they trade, will be obtained illegally. Reclamation director, David Kassell said this was inaccurate and refused to comment.
Outraged by ZMDC's flagrant disregard of the High Court ruling, Andrew Cranswick CEO of African Consolidated Resources said, "their foreign partners are bringing in experts and top machinery, so the foreign partners will rape it for the foreign interests as opposed to the national interests and that is the tragedy and that has to be stopped."
This comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces the possibility of being banned from trading in rough diamonds. In July, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme sent a review team to investigate the human rights violations and looting of diamonds from Chiadzwa. The international watchdog on "conflict diamonds" found gross irregularities and recommended that Zimbabwe be suspended until they comply with minimum standards. It is the first time a state government, and not a rebel army, stands accused of "conflict diamonds." Amidst heated debate, the KPCS is to meet in Nambia on 2 November to decide Zimbabwe's fate.
"The government of Zimbabwe until now, has not really disclosed how it conducts its trade in its minerals. It is a very closely guarded secret and that gives room for corruption by senior government officials, by the military bosses who are now in charge of Chiadzwa," says Farai Maguwu.
The Minister of Mines seems unconcerned. "We are going it as government alone, without their support. We are not going to stop because they have not supported us," he said.