Zimbabwean government gives greenlight to diamond mining

By Li Nuer

HARARE, Nov 14, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- The Zimbabwean government has started to give companies greenlights to mine diamonds in the country despite the disputes between the parastatal Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the privately-owned African Consolidated Resources.

According to the local media, the first two companies who were licensed by the government, Canadile Miners and Mbada Mining (Pvt) Ltd, have started to mine in the Chiadzwa diamond fields, located in the Marange region, some 90 km southwest of the city of Mutare, on the eastern border with Mozambique.

State-of-the-art plants worth millions of U. S. dollars have been set up and rough diamonds for export are being processed.

The two firms are partnering the Government in exploiting the kimberlitic pipes in the eastern district. And more investors from different parts of the world might soon join those already on the ground.

Mbada Mining (Pvt) Ltd has already started mining diamonds after successfully test-running its plant a fortnight ago. The firm's plant, with a capacity to handle 30,000 tons of ore per hour, is reportedly running non-stop.

The company is in the process of erecting another plant with a capacity to process 100,000 tons of ore per hour. By the time they are fully operational around April next year, they shall have four plants in Chiadzwa. Mbada Mining is believed to be jointly owned by local businesspersons and some South Africans.

The daily newspaper The Herald said on Saturday that the investors have turned the Chiadzwa diamond fields into a hive of organized activity in just two months. An airstrip and a 20 km road are under construction while top-of-the-range security cameras have been installed throughout the diamond fields with security tightened by double electric fencing.

Well-equipped private security guards are all over the fields and it is hard to believe that it was not long ago that illegal panners and other criminal elements wreaked havoc and perpetuated chaos with impunity. Uniformed and plainclothes army and police personnel are also on the ground to boost security.

Canadile Miners said it has so far invested over 10 million dollars into the operation. There are indications that its plant is likely to be commissioned next week, since Canadile management has opened up on their plans for Chiadzwa.

Canadile local representative Lovemore Kurotwa has told reporters that they were awaiting clearance to start mining. "This is our second month on the ground. All mining equipment from excavators, earthmovers to density medium separators are on site. We are now waiting for the necessary authorization from the relevant authorities before we can start full-time mining," said Kurotwa.

He said Canadile Miners had addressed all concerns raised by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. He said there was a drastic reduction in illegal panning activities at the diamonds fields since their arrival.

"We have just finished our phase one project. The number of phases depends on the size of the claims. The company has the capacity to commission three phases," explained Kurotwa.

He said Canadile Miners had all the specialized equipment needed for diamond mining and more would be imported as and when the need arose.

According to Kurotwa, behind Canadile Miners are investors from South Africa. "I am their local representative. This operation is in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe. Canadile Miners has its plant near Odzi River for easy access to water while Mbada Mining (Pvt) Ltd is stationed deep into the fields," he said.

The two companies were reportedly allotted 1,000-hectare claims each. These are not part of the claims under dispute between the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and the privately-owned African Consolidated Resources.

The Zimbabwean government has recently appealed against the High Court ruling barring the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation from prospecting and mining activities in Chiadzwa diamond fields.

Justice Charles Hungwe's ruling has allowed African Consolidated Resources to resume operations on the diamond fields, at the center of a dispute between the Government and the London- listed resource firm, who held the claim until eviction about three years ago.

The ruling came after ACR challenged the decision by the government to cancel its permit in 2006 and later directed the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe to seize diamonds from the company. Justice Hungwe ruled that the diamonds be returned to ACR.

Attorney General Johannes Tomana confirmed one of the notices has already been filed with the Supreme Court while "others" would follow. Tomana, however, said pending the court proceedings, neither Government nor ACR would be allowed to operate in Chiadzwa fields.

ACR acquired the claims in early 2006 but was evicted in November the same year. The company has maintained that a joint venture with the government could help effectively settle the dispute over control of the diamond fields.

Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu has recently said the government had short listed investors to partner in Marange. He said because of the distractions that investors to Zimbabwe have been facing, the negotiations would be kept out of the limelight.

A Kimberly Process review team mandated to monitor and regulate diamond trade globally visited Zimbabwe's diamond mines in July and expressed dissatisfaction over the situation in Chiadzwa.

It called for an "immediate demilitarization" of the diamonds fields and measures to stop smuggling after thousands of panners descended on the site. The government has since embarked on gradual demilitarization of the diamond fields.

The government has since acknowledged the existence of some non- compliance issues and the need to ensure that minimum standards of the Kimberly Process are met. It also requested for technical assistance including provision of advice on an independent, multi stakeholder body and special rapporteur.

Over the last decade, mechanized diamond mining in Zimbabwe has been taking place in two locations with hard-rock kimberlite deposits. The Murowa Diamond Mine is located around 40-km from Zvishavane, in central Zimbabwe. The Murowa mine is built over three kimberlite pipes that were first developed in 1996.

The River Ranch Diamond Mine is located on the southern boarder with South Africa, near the town of Bietbridge, which is on the Limpopo River dividing the two countries.

As of 2006, River Ranch has been embroiled in controversy over disputed ownership of the mine. There is also the possibility of future sanctions for violating KPCS rules on the conscription of resources by hostile governments, and the black-market smuggling of illicit diamonds.