FAMILIES forcibly relocated from Marange have been dumped in an abandoned farm house 60 km from the diamond rich fields whose early proceeds netted government and its private partners US$72 million on Wednesday.
Disused tobacco barns also provide a home to families residing at the farm.
The sales are just a fraction of the 6 million carat stockpile Mines minister Obert Mpofu says are waiting for clearance from diamond regulator, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).
Experts estimate that Marange stones are likely to make up 25% of global alluvial diamonds output and have come as a timely boost to a market that was starved of the product.
But a less glitzy story lies at Arda Transau Farm, the new home for families evicted from Marange to make way for commercial mining. Twelve families resettled by Anjin Zimbabwe, a Chinese firm mining in Marange, are in a dire situation. Manicaland Provincial Governor Chris Mushohwe says 136 more families are earmarked for relocation to Arda Transau Farm.
Dilapidated infrastructure and tall grass gives one the creeps upon entering the lifeless land, formerly a flourishing tobacco, paprika and dairy farm before being taken over from its owners by Arda, a run-down state agricultural agency.
At the farm entrance is an iron sign post that has since lost its purpose due to an advanced state of corrosion.
The sight of an impoverished child peeping from the corners of an old tobacco barn whose poor state makes it unfit even for the drying of the golden leaf shows how desperate families here are.
Inside it is dark. Metal cross bars which were once used to hang tobacco when the farm was still productive make the barns brim with heat.
The barns do not have any windows or source of ventilation. The dark brown-eyed child, not used to visitors, flees in the direction of his mother. Joseph; he later tells us his name after calming down.
Joseph’s torn, dirty clothes and body tell a story of extreme poverty. His family is a victim of the forced relocations from Marange.
While the government and the KPCS this week reveled in the limelight of finally settling the contentious issue of Marange diamonds, the lives of these families tell a story of unfulfilled promises, poor planning and lack of care for citizens by a government only too concerned with milking resources.
Joseph’s family, long-term employees when the farm was still operational, was forced out of the farm house to make way for families relocated to the farm from Marange. With nowhere to go, the barns provide the only alternative accommodation.
One of Arda Transaus barn dwellers, 24-year old Prisca Chibharo was born and raised at the farm. She told the Zimbabwe Independent during a visit to the farm this week that life became difficult when the government took over the farm from a white farmer during the land reform programme. The relocation of Marange families there worsened the situation, forcing the mother of three and other former farm workers to live paupers’ lives.
To the government it is like we don’t exist,” she says. “Now we were pushed out from the houses we were staying in. We were forced to stay in the cold for three days with our children. We were told without notice that we were supposed to leave with immediate effect to make way for families coming from Marange. Eventually we settled for the tobacco barn.”
Chibharo said she had no problems settling in with the villagers from Marange, but wants the responsible authorities to make the farm habitable.
Life is not any rosier for the first batch of families removed from Marange to the farm. They describe their relocation as a nightmare.
Last year, Mushohwe claimed that kraal heads from affected parts of Marange would be settled with their subjects at Arda Transau in order to maintain the community fabric. But families here say they have been dumped and neglected.
Anjin Zimbabwe, the first private firm operating in Marange to remove families from land it wants to mine, paid US$1000 per family and packets of groceries to assist the families to settle.
The families said they viewed the cash handouts as a pittance. Four families, with a combined population of 20, share the farm main house, a far cry from the homes they had built for themselves in Marange.
Prosper Ndamera, one of those relocated to Arda Transau, describes the transition as painful.
Personally I am not happy with this relocation. It has removed us from our friends and family. It is not easy to be moved from your home and forced to stay at a place alien to you, said Ndamera, pointing out that he misses the family’s five-roomed house in Marange.
We are crammed here and it is not interesting at all. Though we are grateful for the $1000 they gave us and groceries, this does not amount to what we have lost in Marange.
Ndamera said Marange turned into a horror since the discovery of diamonds there. The diamonds had become a curse to the community, he said.
“Our last days there were so difficult. We felt like strangers at our own homes. The Chinese came and barricaded our village and they would drill where ever they wanted. We really felt that we were no longer wanted,” said Ndamera.
“People would request to be relocated to a bigger place within our home areas but that fell on deaf ears. The painful thing is that our requests were not heard. It is just a situation where decisions are made without proper consultation. It is like our input did not matter. They once told us that by September they (Chinese) would have built twelve houses. We are still to see that because so far our land has not been pegged,” he added.
Shamiso Mtisi, an environmental lawyer with the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association described the manner in which the relocation was handled as unjust and in violation of international standards and treaties.
The problem is that there is no guarantee at all that they will eventually be given decent accommodation and other social services. The likelihood is high that these people will be forgotten. If government and the mining companies are not careful they will create another squatter camp at Arda Transau, Mtisi said.
He said the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Rural and Urban Development had said as much in an affidavit filed in a High Court Case HC 6334/09 in which Marange villagers took the Local Government ministry and the Mines ministry and others to court over the issue of unfair compensation and relocation.
In his affidavit, the permanent secretary clearly deposed that the issue of compensation will only be dealt with after the people have been relocated and having determined the expenses incurred by government in building the structures at the site. This will be a grave situation for the people as they may not be fully compensated after all, said Mtisi, whose organisation has been vocal in opposing the government’s haphazard relocation plan.
Unfortunately, the High Court dismissed the case stating that it was not urgent and now some people have already been relocated. The other problem is that government has not been effectively consulting and communicating with the people of Marange.
Mushohwe’s response to the situation at Arda Transau makes Mtisi’s fears real.
“They are state of the art”, he said of the accommodation at the farm. “Houses have been renovated and they are better than any houses probably found in urban areas. The children have settled well in schools.
“Our partners have made sure that each child is provided with good furniture at school, uniforms have been bought for the children and groceries that will take the family until January have been bought. This is not part of the compensation but just a disturbance allowance,” Mushohwe told the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
He said government and its partners were rehabilitating the state of the art irrigation structure and building model houses that would make a mark in the region, targeting to construct 80 four-bed roomed houses by this December.