Marange: Latest victim of the diamond curse?

diamond_bloodIn a moment of rare candour, the minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, confirmed what everyone already suspected. Certain officials associated with Mbada and Canadile the two companies he personally approved to join a joint venture with the government to mine the lucrative diamond fields of Marange had questionable records.

But, he assured members of the Parliamentary Committee on Mines and Energy, this was normal as it was virtually impossible to find reputable partners in the diamond industry.

Mpofus admission proved to be a brief flash of insight into the otherwise murky world of Zimbabwean diamonds.

Diamonds can theoretically be found almost anywhere in Zimbabwe, because much of the country lies on what is known as the Zimbabwe Archaean Craton, which is conducive to kimberlite deposits. The craton stretches from the north-east of the country to the south and western areas, extending into Botswana, which also has vast deposits of diamonds.

The border between Zimbabwe and Botswana forms what is known as the Orapa Kimberlite Track. It is in this track that some of the worlds largest diamond mines are found, including the Orapa and Lethlekane diamond mines of Botswana.

Before 2004, however, diamond production in Zimbabwe was mainly limited to accidental finds in alluvial gold diggings, with the exception of the River Ranch kimberlite mine near the South African border.

Between 1997 and 1998, Rio Tinto Zimbabwe discovered the Murowa kimberlite cluster, and began mining in 2004. The mine produces typical African kimberlitic diamonds, with an average value of US$65 per carat.

Then came the Marange strike of June 2006, close to the Mozambique border. Following this discovery, a frenzied diamond rush developed. When the government failed to buy up the diamonds because of cash constraints, a thriving black market quickly developed, accompanied by rampant smuggling.

Zimbabwe has been under increasing scrutiny since a Kimberley Process (KP) review mission visited Marange in July 2009 and concluded that there were credible indications of significant noncompliance with the minimum requirements of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). Among their chief concerns was evidence of government involvement in human rights abuses, smuggling, and lax controls that compromised the entire chain of production.

An attempt was made to help Zimbabwe meet its KPCS obligations by appointing a KP monitor, South African Abbey Chikane, in February 2010. The monitors duties include implementing a supervised export mechanism under which he would examine and certify Marange diamonds.

Most of Chiadzwa, the district in which Marange is located, remains a heavily militarized area, as security forces fight a losing battle to keep out thousands of illegal panners drawn to the region with the hope of striking it big.

The diamond fields are at the centre of a hotly contested legal action by Africa

Consolidated Resources (ACR), a small company listed on the Alternative Investment Market in London. ACR gained control of the land after De Beers relinquished its claim in April 2006. They went public with news of a big discovery of alluvial deposits a few months later.

The celebrations were short-lived. By December of that year, the army had moved in and thrown the company off its concession.

Since that time, Chiadzwa has been consumed by illegality and lawlessness, much of it done with the sanction or direct involvement of parties and individuals directly related to political elites within President Mugabes Zanu (PF).

One of them is Minister Mpofu himself, who is clearly benefiting from sources of revenue above his ministerial pay grade. In early 2010, he went on a real estate shopping spree buying several properties in the Bulawayo area, including the Ascot Racecourse and Casino.

Diplomatic sources have also confirmed that he is intimately involved in the running of Canadile, one of governments joint venture partners. But despite this, it is evident that Mpofu is not in charge of what is playing out in Marange.

On more than one occasion, the minister has been exposed for being little more than an errand boy for higher powers. For example, Zimbabwes Central Intelligence Organisation (CSO) was blamed for breaking into his office and stealing sensitive documents in February 2010, an indignity later publicised in the Zanu-controlled daily The Herald.

He has also had to rely on the media to learn of events in Chiadzwa that he should have had advance knowledge of as minister of mines such as the arrival and location of new troop rotations.

Recently, the military chiefs have made their involvement less subtle. On April 9,

2010, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri wrote to Mpofu asking for a mining concession for a shell company controlled by his department. He included a map and specified the areas in Chiadzwa he wished to mine.

On another occasion, military commanders secretly negotiated work permits for

Chinese soldiers to mine in the disputed diamond fields in return for military hardware from China. This included their using equipment belonging to Mbada, one of the governments joint venture partners.

Africa is replete with examples of protracted and often highly factionalised struggles that are made to appear like chaos and collapse when, in fact, events are being cleverly manipulated to shore up elites threatened by democracy or to carve out a profitable political economy from lootable resources like diamonds. This is one of those cases.

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *