The Herald columnist, Nathaniel Manheru, fuelled speculation two weeks ago by suggesting that the then ruling party, Zanu PF, was at fault for not having known all along that Chiadzwa was diamond rich. And in other rumours the name De Beers has been thrown into the fray. The accusation being that perhaps De Beers knew all along of the diamond deposits and did not want to disclose them until a time suitable to themselves.
And then again there is also speculation that even the colonial state knew of these diamonds in the 1970s but did not want a majority government to know about it.
The list of various conspiracy theories may go on. The point however is that they must now be investigated, and not only for diamonds.
The Zimbabwe National Anthem, for those who might not know all of its lyrics, extols our soil and the minerals under it. Various presidential addresses to parliament have also lauded the fact that we have minerals of various shades. The only problem is that no one has bothered to fully assess what is where, and in what quantities. Even if they have, there must be an explanation as to why it is secret to the public and /or to some quarters of government. This is because since Independence the government of the day has tended to be in the thrall of the big mining companies that they allowed to prospect, give a verdict, and in most instances depart without full disclosure. The diamond saga is only the latest known incident of this nature.
According to statements reported in the media citing government sources, there was some prospection at Chiadzwa, perhaps by De beers or Anglo American. Whichever company it was, it left without full disclosure or perhaps it genuinely made a mistake and did not find any evidence of alluvial diamonds. The government of the day accepted its verdict until, as Mines minister Obert Mpofu says, villagers “accidentally” discovered diamonds. Why the government is not even embarrassed by this baffles the mind. And it leads one to question what do we really know, through our government, about the minerals dotted elsewhere in the country?
For example, does Bikita Minerals only mine lithium or are there other minerals that occur with it? Alternatively does the Hartley Platinum Mine in Selous and Ngezi only get platinum or are there other minerals that are being taken from there as well? And what is the geological spread of these minerals? In other countries they talk of diamond belts, of which I am pretty sure we might have one in our country, but the debate has not even begun to touch on this issue. What we have is a newly emergent political culture of “we eat what we gather” which does not always seek a broad understanding of realistic and structural issues concerning the mineral wealth of the country. It instead emphasises “hand to mouth” politics without thinking of the long term. Because diamonds are high value minerals, the government seems to have forgotten that it has other minerals that need to be put to use for the public good. These are still silently being mined without anyone raising a furore. Even where the Finance ministry has been seeking to increase the taxation of mines and minerals, its argument is not so much the usage of this revenue. Instead it is seeking to acquire the revenue and determine usage later, a proposition which is more technical than it is political.
The inclusive government must change its approach to mines and minerals in Zimbabwe. Firstly it must outline clearly the purpose of the revenue acquired from not only diamond sales but all valuable minerals.
To give vague statements such as “for the benefit of all” is inadequate. If, for example, they mean that in the next two years minerals should establish a functional public health system, they must put it in black and white. And this should be done through the public endorsement of a Zimbabwe Mining Charter that outlines the fundamental uses of all acquired mineral wealth.
Secondly the inclusive government, parliament and civil society must immediately set up an independent commission of enquiry into the mineral wealth of this country. Such a body would then assess the geological surveys at hand, measure their weaknesses, look at the history of the mining concessions and prospection done since Independence and establish a framework for present and future mining/mineral prospection and ownership.
This framework would take into account the fact that previously government has failed to prospect its own land and does not have adequate information on the country’s resources. Thirdly, this independent commission must review the nature in which citizens lose their land to mines and mining companies after the discovery of a mineral.
Takura can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Takura Zhangazha