Diamonds running out

Zanu (PF)’s economic recovery programme buoyed by mining revenues appears to be a pipe dream as expert sources say the Marange diamonds fields are fast drying up due to the severe depletion of surface gem deposits. President Robert Mugabe last week promised that a new Zanu (PF) government would turn around the moribund economy through mining.

The alluvial diamond deposits have been voraciously excavated since they were discovered in 2006 and mining companies in the area now have no choice but to dig deeper for conglomerate gems. However, many of them have no capacity for underground extraction, said the sources.

“The mining companies that were given licences to operate in Marange have been working 24/7 (all day throughout the week). As a result, the deposits are running out much faster than expected.

“Two of the companies have already started mining conglomerate diamonds that are found deep down, as shown by tunnel digging and increased blasting in the area. The problem with conglomerate diamonds is that they are difficult to extract and require specialised machinery that the companies currently lack,” said a mining expert, adding that the quality of the conglomerate diamonds was so far poor, resulting in low prices.

The source named Anjin and Mbada Diamonds as the two that were already having to abandon surface mining as alluvial deposits run out. Besides these two, Gename (a company co-owned by Ghanaians), the Zimbabwe Mining Company and Marange Resources are the three other entities licensed to exploit the vast diamond fields. The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation holds a stake in all these firms.

Mbada is believed to have owned the richest deposits of alluvial diamonds, followed by Anjin.

“The conglomerate diamonds tend to be trapped, mostly in small quantities, in pockets within the underground ore. Because of the blasting, the diamonds crack and become clouded, and are not fetching much on the market,” added the source.

Unofficial reports indicate that since diamond mining took off on a large scale more than $10 billion worth of gems have been extracted from the Marange fields, with most of them not being accounted for.

Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu, declined to comment on the state of the ‘depleted’ diamond deposits and referred The Zimbabwean to relevant mining companies.

A Global Witness report released last year said there was rampant exploitation of diamonds in the area, with the army being heavily involved. Minerals rights activists have alleged that clandestine private individuals and shady companies have been involved in the looting of the diamonds.

A parliamentary report released in June following investigations between 2009-2013 led by the late Minister of Mines (2000-2004), Edward Chindori-Chininga, said there were huge anomalies between the quantity of minerals mined in Marange and the revenue remitted to government.

“The (parliamentary) Committee observed with concern that from the time that the country was allowed to trade its diamonds on the world market, government has not realised any meaningful contributions from the sector.

“This is despite the fact that production levels and the revenue generated from exports has been on the increase…There are serious discrepancies between what government receives from the sector and what the diamond mining companies claim to have remitted to Treasury,” stated the report.

It has been estimated that the Marange diamonds account for 25 percent of total world deposits, but another source insisted that the figure was an over-estimation based on speculative exploration. “That figure cannot be true. Exploration that took place and the resultant estimations were based on the activities of artisanal miners, and on projections around alluvial deposits,” she said on condition of anonymity. Efforts to seek comment from the Government Geological Survey unit were fruitless as the department passed the buck to the Chamber of Mines, which, through a Deputy Director, said: “The right offices to approach for comment are those at the Chamber of Mines, since they are responsible for collating data about all mining activities.”

Chamber of Mines Chief Economist, David Matyanga, referred this reporter back to the Geological Survey Department. Anjin spokesperson, Rtd Brig Gen Munyaradzi Machacha declined to comment, referring questions to another employee called Martha who could not be reached.

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