Suffering amid Zimbabwe's diamond fields of plenty
MARANGE, 22 February 2013 (IRIN) - A chain-link fence topped with coils of razor wire separates Zimbabwean subsistence farmers, who endure perennial crop failures and scarce rainfall, from what may be one of the world’s richest diamond deposits.
Marange’s diamond fields, about 90km southeast of Mutare in Manicaland Province, drew tens of thousands of artisanal miners in 2006 as word spread that diamonds had been found. Two years later, they were flushed out in a heavy-handed security operation called ‘Hakudzokwi’ - meaning “you will not return” - to allow commercial mining companies to exploit the roughly 60,000-hectare site.
Rodrick Nyauyanga, 50, briefly gave up his life as a Marange farmer to become an artisanal miner in 2006. With the earnings, he built himself a five-room brick-and-mortar home with a zinc roof. He also purchased six head of cattle and several farming implements, as well as a motorbike.
Following the security clampdown, his 20-year-old son trespassed on the diamond fields and was killed by guard dogs set on him by soldiers. After that, Nyauyanga returned to his life as a farmer and slowly lapsed back into poverty.
First, he sold the motorbike to pay for food and for his youngest child’s school fees. Then, most of his cattle died from tick-borne diseases.
“The only dip tank we had in the area was destroyed to make way for one of the mines, [so] we no longer dip our cattle. Villagers here believe that the mines are polluting the river from which our cattle and goats drink,” Nyauyanga told IRIN.
Now the diamond companies are beginning to encroach on Nyauyanga’s land. He lost about half of his five-hectare plot when the Chinese mining company Anjin Diamond extended its boundary into his fields.
A 2012 report by the UK-based NGO Global Witness said Anjin Diamond was a joint venture with the “obscure” local company Matt Bronze and Anjin Zimbabwe’s board members, which “include senior serving and retired military and police officers.”
“Officials from Anjin recently visited us and notified us that they were considering moving us because more diamonds have been discovered where we live. Many of us have already lost farming and grazing land to the mines, forcing us to depend on food from donors,” Nyauyanga said.
“These diamonds are supposed to make us happy, but they have brought misery to people in Marange. We can’t even grow vegetables. At one time I tried to sink a well on my homestead to water my garden but was arrested by the police who accused me of illegally mining for diamonds,” he said.
Melanie Chiponda, project manager for the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (CCDT), an NGO monitoring human rights abuses in the area, told IRIN the consequence of mining have been “catastrophic” for the Marange community.
“The people of Marange believe that the discovery of diamonds is a curse. Of course, they at one time enjoyed the fruits of the diamonds, but they were happier before the minerals were discovered. People are suffering in the midst of plenty,” she said.
Mine authorities and security services were preventing the community from engaging in livelihood opportunities, such as hawking, she said. “The mine owners, soldiers and the police destroyed vending sites because they felt they were being used to illegally sell diamonds.
“Besides, villagers who used to harvest and sell wild fruits along the roads can no longer do so since the mines have cut down the trees, while small wild animals that locals hunted for sale have disappeared,” she said.
The area has no medical facilities, and the nearest clinic is 50km away. “The villagers who used to depend on herbs as an alternative to modern medicines no longer have access to trees and shrubs that the mines have also razed,” Chiponda continued.
Small-scale farmer Theresa Samuriwo, 46, from Mavhiza Village in Marange, told IRIN, “Most of the farming here is done by women, the majority of whom are single mothers. We can no longer sufficiently look after our children, whom the mines have failed to give employment. We used to grow and sell crops at irrigation projects, but the dams have been polluted and silted-up by the mines.”
The few boreholes that were sunk several years ago are overwhelmed by villagers and their livestock, said Chiponda, and the water table has been affected by heavy mine use.
Between 2010 and 2011, the mines relocated nearly 700 families from Marange to Arda Transau, a sprawling settlement about 40km north of the diamond fields. Each family was provided a four-room house.
But Chiponda said the houses were overcrowded. “Some of the children from the relocated families have since married. They don’t have anywhere to go, which means the households are now severely overcrowded.”
She says that, on average, six people are living in each house, and that there are 33 relocated families who had yet to be allocated houses; they are living in the houses of relocated relatives.
“They are vulnerable to manipulation by mining authorities and government officials as they do not have social leaders, and they have no leases to the land on which they now live,” she said.
Shuwa Mudiwa, the member of parliament for Mutare West, which includes Marange, told IRIN, “The people [from Marange] are very disgruntled as there are no benefits that have accrued to them. Most of those that were relocated are yet to be compensated, and the mines are not doing anything meaningful to improve people’s livelihoods.”
But Munyaradzi Machacha, a director at Anjin, insists the companies are doing their best to cushion people from nearby villages against the shocks of displacement.
“We have done quite a lot for the communities. We have provided portable [delivered in containers] water, a school and a [satellite] clinic [servicing residents at Arda Transau], and sometimes [we] give food hand-outs to households. We have also invited doctors from China to restore eyesight to a number of people, and we are planning to start irrigation schemes for the locals.”
In 2012, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), an initiative to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the multibillion-dollar international market, permitted Zimbabwe to sell Marange diamonds with KPCS certification after barring it for years over claims of widespread human rights abuses at Marange’s diamond operations.
The European Union (EU) recently decided to keep the government-controlled Zimbabwean Diamond Mining Company (ZDMC) on its sanctions list, even though Belgium, an EU member, had proposed lifting the sanctions.
Global Witness welcomed the retention of EU sanctions against the ZMDC in an 18 February statement, although it noted that Anjin Diamonds was not covered by the “restrictive measures.”