Diamonds not our best friend

Traffic lights in the city have not been working for more than five years. Every inch of the roads are potholed. The once vibrant industry has collapsed and some residential areas have had water problems for over a decade. Welcome to the newly christened ‘Diamond City’.

The city was better off before the discovery of diamonds in Marange. We are sliding deeper into stinking poverty and we wonder who is benefiting from the diamond money?
The city was better off before the discovery of diamonds in Marange. We are sliding deeper into stinking poverty and we wonder who is benefiting from the diamond money?

The city of Mutare, about 260 kilometres east of the capital, has been dubbed the ‘Diamond City’, because of its proximity to one of the richest diamond deposits in the world. But besides the new moniker, there is nothing in the city to show for the vast diamonds deposit a stone’s throw away at Marange. Diamonds worth billions of dollars have been shunted out of Manicaland province for the past five year – without benefiting the locals at all.

All the revenue has been flowing into the pockets of some unscrupulous senior Zanu (PF) officials. One Mutare resident summed it up when he said: “The city was better off before the discovery of diamonds in Marange. We are sliding deeper into stinking poverty and we wonder who is benefiting from the diamond money?”

Game changer

When the diamonds were discovered many people in Manicaland rubbed their hands in glee, expecting to benefit from the lucrative resource. Diamond experts say the Marange diamonds are a ‘game changer’ as they are projected to satisfy 30 percent of world diamond demand by 2015. World-renowned diamond industry analyst Chaim Zohar revealed this at the annual Prospectors and Developers’ Association of Canada conference last year.

But despite all these promising statistics, Mutare and its surrounding areas continue to sink deeper in poverty, with the city slowly grinding to a halt. People are starving, while hospitals and clinics have no medicine. Roads and other infrastructure are crumbling.

Many questions have been raised over who is benefiting from the diamond proceeds and no satisfying answers have been proffered by either the government or the diamond mining companies. More than seven companies have been registered to mine diamonds at Marange in partnership with the government- through the mining development arm of the government- the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).

50 percent?

“We doubt whether the government of Zimbabwe owns 50 percent of shares in these diamond mining companies as been claimed, because as a country we are not getting anything. People are suffering yet we have such a rich resource in our country,” James Mupfumi of the Centre for Research and Development told journalists during a press briefing in Mutare recently.

Local people are failing to get jobs in the mines. Diamond companies have been accused of polluting water sources. It is against this backdrop that the CRD and the Zimbabwe Natural Resource Dialogue (ZNRD) called on the government to incorporate community rights into the new minerals policy and ensure that communities are represented on the proposed mining affairs board.

The two NGOs said: “Civil society implores the ministry of mines to formulate policies that compel mining companies to undertake sustainable social accountability projects in promoting environmental, economic social and cultural rights of communities living in resource rich areas. The nation seethes with anger to watch communities that have been impoverished by diamond mining activities in Marange including desperate families relocated at Arda Transau whose rights have been violated due to forced dislocations without alternative source of livelihoods”.

Poor villagers relocated as a result of operations by the mining companies have been literally dumped at Arda Transau, a desolate government farm about 40 kilometres from Mutare, without proper amenities like schools, clinics, clean water and electricity.

Villagers dumped

And these villagers continue to sink deeper into poverty. The companies which had promised to give the villagers a quarterly supply of food until they have come up with income generating projects have reneged on their earlier promises. One of the relocated villagers, Cephas Gwayagwaya told this reporter that “soils at Arda Transau are like pit sand and not good for agriculture”.

The two NGOs lashed out at the government of Zimbabwe for failing to disclose beneficial ownership in the mining sector while conspiring with mining companies to either deny or divert proceeds for community ownership schemes – in itself proof that the indigenisation laws were crafted to benefit political elites at the expense of the economy.

12 new licences

“The government received only a pittance in the last three Marange diamond sales ( at the Antwerp Diamond Centre in Belgium) because politically connected elites grabbed controlling stakes in the country’s mineral wealth under the banner of indigenisation,” Zimbabwe Natural Resource Dialogue Forum, executive director, Freeman Bhoso charged.

The civil society organisations also raised concern over the granting of 12 mining exploring licenses, including four exclusive orders to private companies, by President Robert Mugabe in spite of poor monitoring mechanisms on the part of the government, which has seen such companies plundering mineral resources and destroying the environment under the guise of carrying out mining explorations.

Mupfumi argued that there was need for strategic public/private partnerships in mining exploration, where government lacked expertise. Comprehensive mineral exploration by the government would guarantee better mining deals that would benefit people of Zimbabwe.

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