MUTARE – When the diamond fever erupted, people from different parts of the country, and indeed from the whole world, descended on Chiadzwa, some 90km west of Mutare in search of the precious gem that they believed would transform their lives.
The majority of these illegal panners were desperate Zimbabweans who had suffered under the economic collapse of Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabes corrupt and populist practises of the last two decades. They saw the diamonds of Chiadzwa as the answer to their survival.
To some, the Chiadzwa journey became the proverbial rags-to-riches tale which saw former street kids and ordinary people becoming millionaires.
The top Zanu (PF) fat cats, security personnel, Army Generals and Cabinet Ministers were quick to exploit the opportunity and used their power to loot the diamonds that fattened their pockets.
But, it was a different story for many Chiadzwa villagers who now face starvation. Despite having diamonds on their doorsteps, the villagers are still condemned to grinding poverty.
Faced by a cocktail of problems ranging to politics to natural causes like drought, massive starvation is looming in Chiadzwa. There were erratic rains last season, and the harvest will be poor.
Chiadzwa, in Marange district, is traditionally an arid area – poor for agriculture. The few crops that withstood the drought were destroyed by illegal panners, leaving the villagers with little or nothing to depend on. Politically, Zanu (PF) is in control of Chiadzwa.
Many villagers were forcefully removed from their homes to pave way for the controversial mining by companies aligned to Zanu (PF), while others were never given the chance to mine the diamonds by the Zanu (PF)-controlled soldiers and police who flooded the area.
The mining companies Anjin Investments, a Chinese company, and Mbada Diamonds both reportedly have Zanu (PF) links. With the help of soldiers and police, they have forcibly evicted the Chiadzwa families from the diamond fields.
The families have demanded $50 000 per family as compensation from the mining companies before they are moved to ARDA Transau in Odzi area in the same district.
But authorities at Anjin Investments and Mbada Diamonds have refused to release the funds and have instead started intimidating the villagers by forcefully evicting them.
The relocated families were given $1000 each as compensation, which they said was a mockery. I never benefited from the diamonds. There were diamonds in my field but the soldiers were always in my field guarding the area. Then lastly I was forced to move out from my home area. I am very angry about this, said one villager.
Another, Murombo Muunz,e said: It pains me that the diamonds that were in my yard have made some people rich while I am still wallowing in hunger and poverty. We do not have anything to eat at all, but I had diamonds in my own backyard. They have taken them (diamonds) all, leaving me with nothing.
Malvern Mudiwa, the chairman for Chiadzwa Community Development Trust, (CCDT) that fights rights for people in Chaidzwa last week confirmed that the families had agreed not to be moved before receiving their compensation in full.
We have always been saying people from Chiadzwa should benefit. The compensation money will be used to buy shares in the companies that are mining the precious gems so that the Chiadzwa community will benefit. We have been talking with the government and the mining companies, said Mudiwa.
NGOs operating in the area were chased away by Zanu (PF) as they were perceived to be aligned to MDC-T.
“Some of the companies mining here now have been operating for a whole year, but nothing is being done in terms of fulfilling their promises of providing decent accommodation and food to the families, Headman Patrick Chiadzwa said.
The local traditional leadership has been pestering companies mining in the area to come to the rescue of the 3,800 villagers.
A political commentator in Mutare, Jeffries Muza, said: The diamond field has fallen under the control of a select few at the top of the countrys security forces, yet the villagers who should be the beneficiaries of the diamonds are facing starvation.
A close source to the security agents said: The military chiefs and other Zanu (PF) ministers have positioned themselves to profit from millions of dollars worth of diamonds flowing out of the diamond field. Traditional leaders have raised concerns over how the villagers have been neglected and dumped, but it has fallen on deaf ears.
What we are seeing here is a situation where the big diamond dealers have become so powerful that it is now very difficult of them to be arrested, said a soldier who is participating in the on-going evictions.
As we talk right now top security agents are looting the diamonds. Big diamond dealers are greasing the palms of top officers in the force to ensure they are immune from arrest and prosecution, yet some villagers are being dumped in Arda and are starving, he added.
Top Zanu (PF) officials believed to be benefiting include Grace Mugabe who is said to be benefiting through Mbada Diamonds, Obert Mpofu, Solomon Mujuru, Chris Mushowe and Douglas Nyikayaramba among others.
Parliament of Zimbabwe recently pushed for a special investigation into Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu’s interest in the companies that were controversially given licences to mine the diamonds after MPs were
barred from touring the fields.
Mpofu reportedly refused to give members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Energy the go-ahead to visit the Mbada storage facilities and mining operations in Chiadzwa.
Mpofu, however, has told the committee that he could not rule out the fact that some of the directors behind the diamond companies were crooks.
The MPs already have plans to investigate him for an alleged property-buying spree that began two years ago. The minister has reportedly bought in cash over 27 properties in his hometown of Victoria Falls and in Bulawayo.
Meetings scheduled with Manicaland governor Christopher Mushowe also hit a snag as he is said to continually snub the team.
The committee said its preliminary investigations had already established some irregularities in the exploitation of the Chiadzwa diamonds by Mbada. Some of the senior officials involved in the project have dubious backgrounds, with some of them having once been prosecuted in Angola and South Africa.
It is alleged that Mpofu did not float a tender to select prospective investors to partner government in diamond extraction in the Marange Diamond Fields amid allegations he overlooked better equipped and experienced diamond miners.Post published in: News