We the civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, united in our diversity by our common desire for economic justice and improvement of human security for the Zimbabwean people, note with grave concern the rampant theft and smuggling of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth by organised crime syndicates linked to the country’s ruling elites.
This statement follows the arrest of Ms. Henrietta Rushwaya, the President of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation, on 26 October at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. Ms Rushwaya was arrested as she attempted to smuggle 6.09 kgs of gold to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Initially, the State quickly consented to bail, however, the State went on to oppose bail signifying coaching and external influence. We, however, applaud the crack team for swiftly acting after receiving a tip off, we implore them to widen the net and bring to book other syndicates.
The arrest of Ms. Henrietta Rushwaya is confirmation of a complex web of illicit financial flows perpetrated by organised criminal syndicates. It is clear that the Rushwaya case is just but one of the many undetected cases of resource leakages through our porous ports of entry. While we believe in the principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, we do not doubt that Zimbabwe has lost billions of revenues from mineral resources which are being unlawfully shipped out of the country. In 2019 Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube estimated that between 30 to 34 tonnes of gold is smuggled into neighbouring South Africa alone. Similarly, President Mnangagwa made remarks where a company based in UAE confirmed buying US$60 million worth of gold from Zimbabwe through the parallel market. No one was arrested even though the company which spoke to President Mnangagwa volunteered the identities of the individuals to him.
We recall that when lucrative diamond fields were discovered in Marange in 2006, criminal gangs in government quickly formed dodgy companies that were registered in tax havens such as Mauritius and began pillaging the resource. The late former President Robert Mugabe in 2016 referred to as much as $15 billion having been looted from Marange diamond fields between 2009 and 2015. One of the companies which was implicated in the loot was initially forced to shut down, however, the company was secretly brought back into operation in 2019. Yet again, no arrests were made.
We are deeply concerned that criminal syndicates have spread their tentacles on major minerals like gold, diamond, and black granite. Ms Rushwaya’s daring attempt to fly out through Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport suggests her confidence in the knowledge that her back was covered. One can safely assume that such modus operandi has been used before. Further, the fact that Ms. Rushwaya was only arrested after a tipoff attests to the porous nature of our borders, suffice to say, contraband minerals have successfully passed through our borders before without being detected by officials. The current Rushwaya scandal is proof that criminal dealings in minerals have continued unabated for decades. When the nation’s resources are plundered in this manner, it is the ordinary citizens who suffer. Communities hosting minerals continue to endure the agony of resource curse while the politically connected enjoy the benefits.
We are equally concerned with the culture of impunity that characterises cases of grand corruption or those involving the illegal exploitation of mineral wealth by political elites. Instead of addressing grand corruption and looting, artisanal, and small scall miners are persecuted and regarded as criminals. It is unfortunate that the law is quick to punish artisanal miners whilst the real criminals remain immune from the law. Organised smuggling of resources is one of the reasons why the government is unable to revive the economy and ensure a decent wage for its employees. The criminal gangs are behind the current economic muddle and political instability. Money laundering has become a way of life as evidenced by massive stashes of cash seen in possession of gold smugglers and leaders of organised syndicates. The Zimbabwe civil society believes the country is losing over $20 billion annually, if all minerals and semi-precious gems being smuggled are accounted for. Indeed, the country has enough resources to finance its own recovery and development, only if looting and corruption in the mining sector is resolved.
We, the civil society organisations of Zimbabwe, call upon the government of Zimbabwe to:
- Thoroughly investigate Henrietta Rushwaya and the Zimbabwe Miners Federation and bring all those involved in the attempted smuggling of minerals to book.
- Ensure non-interference with the judiciary as they handle the Rushwaya case in particular as well as other cases relating to resource looting and corruption.
- Open an independent investigation into the smuggling of minerals from Zimbabwe whose report should be published within a reasonable timeframe.
- Review the criminal justice system to ensure stiffer penalties on those who smuggle minerals.
- Tighten security at all our borders to ensure all minerals extracted in Zimbabwe are accounted for.
- Capacitate border and airport security with equipment for detection of illicit criminal activities involving minerals.
- Enact a whistle-blower protection legislation in order to protect whistle blowers who report and expose cases of corruption and other criminal offenses.
- Investigate foreign dealers colluding with local criminals to smuggle minerals out of Zimbabwe and revoke their rights to remain in the country