HomeLocal NewsMarange security crackdown, violent death amid illicit deals

Marange security crackdown, violent death amid illicit deals

THIS week the Zimbabwe Independent — which last month began publishing fresh stories based on our ground-breaking investigation into the Marange alluvial diamonds discovery and subsequent looting — continues to lay bare the vicious savagery which engulfed the area when the government unleashed security forces on illegal panners, fortune seekers and innocent citizens who were caught in the crossfire. This special series is supported by the Investigative Journalism Fund.

By Elias Mambo/Obey Manayiti

Before the crackdown ... Diamond panners in the Chiadzwa area.
Before the crackdown … Diamond panners in the Chiadzwa area.

We narrate the story of 33-year-old Fungai Ziduche, who lost one of his testicles, after being tortured by security details in Marange. Ziduche met his fate at the hands of soldiers and police who perpetrated gross human rights abuses during Operation Hakudzokwi, a drastic security dragnet meant to flush out illegal diamond panners and dealers.

In this edition the Independent, also carries extracts from Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds, a recently published book edited by Richard Saunders and Tinashe Nyamunda. In a chapter with the heading Free-for-all: Artisanal Diamond Mining, Nyamunda writes that “the discovery of diamonds in Marange in 2006 and the subsequent artisanal diamond rush in a period of ‘free-for-all’ mining resulted in an informal economy with important economic multiplier effects”.

In an interview with the Independent this week, Chiadzwa Community Development Trust chairperson Malvern Mudiwa narrated how Ziduche was tortured while resting at a local business centre in Manicaland.

“Ziduche was at Tenda Business Centre resting in the back of a colleague’s pick-up truck while his friends were buying in the shops,” Mudiwa said.

“He saw the Zimbabwe Republic Police officers who asked him why he was in the pick-up. He told them he was waiting for his colleagues who were buying some food in the shops.”

Ziduche was then arrested and taken to Mbada mining concession where he was severely tortured, resulting in one of his testicles being damaged.

He was taken to a hospital in Mutare where doctors told him that restoration of his private parts by medical intervention might be impossible. This was after he underwent an operation at Mutare General Hospital, with the doctors saying his left testicle was no longer functional, while the right one had a three-centimetre cut.

In an interview with our sister paper NewsDay at the time, Ziduche said on the fateful day on February 26, he was sleeping in his cousin’s car at Tenda shops when four police officers — two in plain clothes — asked him what he was doing.

After explaining that he was in his home area, he said the police asked to see his national identity card.

“They took me to what they called Mbada Diamonds Base. I was told to remove all my clothes and lie facing downwards.

They started whipping me. When I tried to rise up, I lost control and felt like I was blacking out. When I tried to crawl away from them, they beat me on my private parts,” he said.

Ziduche suffered immense pain. Civil society activists reported widespread human rights violations at the time. However, there was more to the relations between illegal diamond dealers and the security forces than mere tension. The dynamics were much more nuanced. And although there was a lot of bloodshed, there were also instances of symbiosis or mutual benefit.

Nyamunda explains as follows: Although it is difficult to estimate the precise number of informal diggers who descended on Chiadzwa, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) found during an exploration exercise in December 2006 that up to 25 000 were already in the fields.

At the peak of artisanal mining in 2008, some reported, there were up to 35 000 miners and traders in the area. The diggers were drawn from both Zimbabwe’s urban areas and the surrounding districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge and Buhera, and comprised both the unemployed and those employed in the formal sector, where real incomes were increasingly fragile and in decline. An important number of magweja (illegal diamond panners) were veterans of informal gold mining — so-called makorokoza (illegal gold panners) — from various far-flung districts of the country.

In the early days especially, these numbers sometimes included whole families. In others, it involved school teachers and many of their students, severely eroding time spent in the classroom — an alarming development which illustrated the sudden and deep impact of the diamond rush on local communities, as well as their growing desperation in a time of crisis.

While Operation Chikorokoza Chapera and successive state interventions contributed to increasing tensions between magweja and government, magweja devised strategies to manage their volatile interactions with the state. Many were effective and adaptive and, as a result, various government-led eviction operations largely failed to produce their desired results until late 2008.

For the magweja who arrived in Marange in 2006-2007, the diamond fields appeared to be a source of salvation. They were inspired by the promise of improvements in the quality of life, of formal and informal commercial opportunities that emerged and the wealth accumulated, especially by the diamond buyers as reflected in the lavish lifestyles they had. Yet the practice of informal mining and the conditions surrounding it were far less appealing.

The reality was characterised by difficult conditions and violence perpetrated by the law enforcement and military arms of the state, which secured Chiadzwa and limited access by magweja. Those who managed to gain access evaded state authorities, bribed or worked in syndicates with them. The relationships between security personnel and magweja was highly unpredictable, volatile and frequently characterised by violence.

The state’s shift towards intolerance of artisanal mining reflected the view that the commodity started and ended with the wrong hands: from informal miners to foreign-linked international buyers, Marange’s rough diamonds were falling almost entirely beyond the formal reach — and benefit — of the state. Ironically, the state, through the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ), initially encouraged artisanal mining in Marange in 2006, at a time when government was aiming to marginalise ACR and its legal claim in the diamond fields; moreover, MMCZ had actively traded with magweja when it had sufficient resources to buy on the informal market. Once the MMCZ had itself been marginalised from the heart of the trade by its uncompetitive prices and insufficient liquidity and purchasing resources, it lobbied for the securing of Chiadzwa by state security agencies and, later, commercial mining operations nominated by the state.

Magweja, new to the fields, faced two sets of challenges: on the one hand, finding and mining available ground and linking into illegal trading networks; on the other, evading violence in the form of both sporadic raids by mostly hostile state security agencies, and attacks and intimidation carried out by magombiro, diggers turned gangs of thieves of which the most notorious were the MaShurugwi. In addition, there were considerable challenges associated with living in the bush for extended periods without formal housing, water, food and other supportive infrastructure. For one digger, “the whole process was like being in jail or voluntary confinement”.

A key strategy for meeting these layered challenges was the formation of alliances known as “syndicates”. Syndicate membership ranged from three or four, to fifteen or more. Solo diggers were rare. The first syndicates in early 2006 consisted primarily of kin members; many became known by and were consolidated through the geographical origins of most of their members, and their own relations of trust, kinship and culture.

However, while familiarity remained a major factor in syndicate formation, increasingly the latter cut across kin linkages and areas of origin, as mining activities became more extensive and dangerous.

Mining was normally conducted at night, under cover of darkness. Depending on the syndicate, the division of labour typically involved two or three syndicate members to dig, collect and transport the ore to safe areas, where it would be sifted for diamonds. Some members were placed on watch for security personnel.

In other instances, female members were sometimes forced into sexual transactions with police or military officers in exchange for access, and for the release of captured syndicate members. In most cases, the women provided these sexual services under duress, as the only available option to avoid capture or gain access to the fields.

Yet the arbitrary and often brutal nature of state security forces’ interactions with magweja remained the most common experience. The military, especially, were implicated in cases of forced labour, notably after 2008, involving former syndicate members lured by the prospect of sharing proceeds with security personnel guarding the fields.

In the process they perpetrated many human rights abuses, including the forced labour of an estimated 300 children who were made to carry ore for 11 hours a day, and the killing of over 214 diggers from October 27 to November 16 2008. Officials at the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border were also implicated as they facilitated the passage of traders to smuggle and sell their gems to dealers in Mozambique en route to international markets.

Others accumulated bribes they demanded at checkpoints and roadblocks along the Mutare-Masvingo highway that led to and from Chiadzwa. During Operation Wakachiwana Kupi (Where did you get it?), some uniformed forces raided rural shops and seized stock and cash from shopkeepers.

In other police actions, the property of suspected diamond dealers was seized, ranging from small household possessions and cellphones, to motor vehicles. Violent assaults were not uncommon.

One notable case was that of Mutare businessman Maxwell Mandebvu-Mabota, whose vehicle was siezed along with other valuables and US$11 000 in cash; he would die after being beaten by soldiers.

Among magweja, reports were widespread of seized property and detentions by police in the pursuit of bribes.

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