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 — exposes how the state resorted to the use of force to remove illegal miners after it fell out with them.
Elias Mambo/ Obey Manayiti
This special series is supported by the Investigative Journalism Fund.
After the state initially failed to collaborate with villagers and illegal miners because the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) could not compete with regional traders, the state resorted to the use of force to remove the illegal miners and take control of the Chiadzwa diamond field.
On October 27 2008, two years after a countrywide “Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (End of Panning),” government launched Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return) in Marange.
The operation, which involved elements of the Zimbabwe National Army, Air Force and Central Intelligence Organisation, appeared to have been designed both to restore a degree of order and to allow key army units access to riches at a time when the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Operation Hakudzokwi, which intensified during the first week of November 2008, had been going on for six weeks, but was exclusively carried out by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). During the police operation, clashes between the police and illegal panners were common but brief, allowing the panning activities to continue after short breaks
Operation Hakudzokwi Part 2, which commenced around November 10, was officially announced by the then Manicaland governor and Resident Minister, Chris Mushohwe.
The operation later spread to residential suburbs in Mutare where armed soldiers were abducting anyone they suspected of having anything to do with Chiadzwa diamond activities.
In an interview this week, Boniface Kusena, a victim of military atrocities and torture, said the uniformed forces would descend on a village and cause untold suffering as they hunted down illegal miners.
“They would arrive in military trucks at a growth point and round up everyone,” Kusena said.
“People would be loaded into a police truck, known as the gumbakumba, and taken to the diamond base which acted as a main military camp which housed the army and support unit officers.”
“The military would check the identification cards as well as permits which visitors were told to apply for from the Mutare Rural Council,” he said.
Kusena also said during such raids police would take away large sums of cash from travellers as they would mount roadblocks.
“Besides the diamond base, the whole Chiadzwa area is dotted with sub-police camps which include Mukwada, Tenda, Machechi and Pahot, among many others where the operation was co-ordinated from.”
“A lot of visitors were arrested because they were found not in possession of the permit while others had not renewed their permits.”
Kusena said the permits would expire after one month and people were too busy to seek renewals.
“On the day the operation was launched, two helicopters flew around the diamond fields and we all thought it was an ordinary military exercise,” he said.
“To our surprise the helicopters landed then and several army trucks and buses came as the soldiers announced that they were taking over Chiadzwa.”
Kusena also said the soldiers often clashed with police over the control of Chiadzwa as the police were involved in syndicated looting with illegal miners.
This week, Chiadzwa Community Development Trust chairperson Malvern Mudiwa said Operation Hakudzokwi, which was designed to drive away artisanal miners, was tense and frightening.
“The operation targeted mostly motorists and those who did not have IDs with 75-75 index which represents Manicaland,” Mudiwa said.
“Anyone found without those requirements would be arrested, tortured and at times asked to leave Manicaland.” Mudiwa also said other smaller operations such as ‘Operation Tasangana’ (We Have Met) and ‘Operation Ngatizivane’ (Introduce Yourself) were also launched during the same time as Hakudzokwi.
“Operation Ngatizivane meant that motorists were to apply for a special permit to drive around the whole of Manicaland while a national identity card with index 75-75 was enough to determine whether one was originally from Manicaland or not.”
Human rights groups say over 200 people were killed in the diamond fields while thousands were maimed, tortured and brutalised in Marange.
As this paper has previously reported, one of the people who accidentally got caught up in the diamonds conflict was local sports journalist Simba Rushwaya, who is now based in South Africa. Rushwaya says he was almost killed — for nothing — by soldiers during the crackdown.
Rushwaya narrated his ordeal to the Zimbabwe Independent: “Basically, I was arrested in November 2008 at my home area in Birchenough Bridge, about 372 kilometres south-east of Harare under the operation code-named “Hakudzokwi” (No Return), literally meaning no one should go back to Chiadzwa diamond fields,” Rushwaya says.
“I had visited my home area from Harare to check on my then sick mother. Unfortunately for me, my visit coincided with the brutal operation in which we were severely beaten indiscriminately. I was picked at home alongside with three of my brothers. The security agents claimed they had gathered information that my family was buying the gems, which was false.
“After being picked at home while brushing my teeth in the morning we were force-marched into state-owned buses and army trucks. As we were headed into the buses and trucks we were beaten with sticks and clenched fists at gunpoint.”
Farai Maguwu, a civil society activist and director of the Marange-based Centre for Research and Development, told the Independent in an interview this week that the state unleashed untold suffering on the illegal miners with more than 200 people left dead.
“Records at the hospital at that time confirmed that as of the 5th of November, over 150 bodies had been received by the hospital mortuary from Chiadzwa. These were labelled ‘BID Marange’,” meaning brought in dead from Marange. Hospital staff confirmed that the majority of the bodies had gunshot wounds,” he said.