SPARED forced relocation, thousands of people staying in and around Marange diamond fields are no better than those resettled at Arda Transau. The area now feels more like an open prison than home, so they say.
Villagers interviewed by ZimFerrets — Zimbabwe’s new online investigative journalism centre — during a recent visit to the area say they have not only been robbed of their diamonds, but also of their freedom. Hence, they are now worse off than they were before diamonds were discovered in the area.
Isolated from the outside world, the villagers cannot get in or out of their area freely; they are always subjected to repeated and oppressive checks by soldiers, police and private security guards that have taken over control of access to their home area. They are now living in a security zone; an open prison in fact.
The caged villagers cannot freely receive visitors. Neither can they venture out a few kilometres from their own homes without the risk of interrogation and sometimes beatings. Overzealous security forces sometimes even fire at them.
When the government decided to relocate some families from Marange to Arda Transau, a derelict farm 60km away from their ancestral homes, many others were allowed to stay behind pending relocation at some later stages. That did not happen, but they are in no better situation though.
When local traditional and community leader Headman Chiadzwa speaks about the discovery of diamonds in the area and subsequent developments his voice cracks and trembles with frustration and suppressed anger
Fear and fury are written all over his face as he narrates excruciating experiences and the plight of an expectant community left hanging dry; nursing both emotional and physical scars following the discovery of what was touted as one of the world’s biggest deposits of alluvial diamonds.
That is the irony of Marange. Widespread poverty pervaded the area before the discovery of the diamonds.
It still does.
More than a decade after mining commenced, the Chiadzwa community still struggles for access to safe water, endures a dilapidated road network, unemployment and poor health and education facilities.
“Before the discovery of diamonds many people in my area survived on hunting and fishing. Even children would go to school with bows and arrows, not to attack each other but to hunt after school,” said Chiadzwa.
“That was the culture; we were satisfied with it, never mind that we had very little to live by. Others weaved mats from baobab tree fibrous barks to sell to people along the road or to those going back and forth to South Africa,” Chiadzwa said.
Then the diamond discovery came and things ironically turned from bad to worst.
“The situation changed for the worst after the discovery of diamonds. It is like a curse,” said Chiadzwa.
In Africa, many countries, especially those which have huge diamond reserves like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Sierra Leone, have been afflicted for decades by conflict and the resource curse — the paradox of plenty.
Countries with an abundance of natural resources like oil and precious minerals, especially diamonds, tend to have less conflict, economic growth, less democracy, and poor development outcomes than those with fewer natural resources.
Zimbabwe is a case in point. The country has an abundance of minerals, but its people are languishing in poverty.
Besides violence and human rights abuses at the height of diamond mining, poverty was also rampant in Marange.
Global Witness, an international diamond watchdog, has uncovered new evidence linking Zimbabwe’s political and security elites to a decade of disappearing diamond wealth.
“In 2006 one of the largest diamond finds in recent history was made in eastern Zimbabwe’s rural Marange. A find of this scale could have gone a long way towards alleviating the country’s serious economic woes.
“Instead, Zimbabwe’s precious stones were left to the mercy of the country’s highly partisan security services and political elites, to the ultimate detriment of Zimbabwe’s development and democracy.
“Despite offering early promise and hope, diamonds have failed to benefit the Zimbabwean people.
“Instead, they have provided secret off-budget funding for state security forces consistently implicated in their oppression.
As elections and a divisive presidential succession struggle loom, this has serious implications for Zimbabwe’s democratic future, and casts serious doubt on Mugabe’s claim that private investors are solely to blame for billions of dollars of missing diamond revenues. Deep cavernous holes in the diamond-rich ground are matched only by holes in government budgets and company accounts.”
According to Brilliant Earth, an organisation which seeks to cultivate a more ethical, transparent, and sustainable jewellery industry, diamond mining communities in Africa, including Zimbabwe, are impoverished because the one million diamond miners earn less than a dollar a day — a wage that is below the extreme poverty level.
Mugabe has said US$15 billion worth of diamonds was looted from Marange where soldiers supposedly guarded fields mined by the Chinese, Russians, Lebanese and South African firms in partnership with state-owned entities.
The newly-formed state-owned firm, the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) took over mining activities, ostensibly to clean up the sector and ensure transparency and accountability but nothing has changed. If anything, the situation is now worse — Chiadzwa villagers are no longer even getting the crumbs they used to.
For locals, ZCDC’s entry into the fray has meant little more than perpetuation of their misery.
Chiadzwa, the traditional authority in the area, and fellow villagers know better. They have seen it all – from the time when diamonds were discovered by villagers in 2006 to the invasion by artisanal miners and then government control, it has been a case of lurching from one disaster to another.
Part of the robbery of the villagers happened because of ignorance and desperation. Since they do not know much about diamonds at the beginning, villagers would exchange a cup full of diamonds for a loaf of bread and a packet of sugar. This dramatises the pillage.
That changed when thousands of artisanal miners heard of the discovery and flocked to the area. They were later forced out through a brutal military operation in 2008 to make way for formalised mining, which was also used to rip them off.
“It is unfortunate that up to this day we are still pleading with authorities to develop this area. At some point, Mbada Diamonds gave people some food after every three months and built houses for traditional leaders around. But we cannot say that was meaning development,” Chiadzwa said.
“We expected that our roads, schools and clinics — our infrastructure — would be upgraded and developed, but nothing has changed
Nyemudzai Mwaudzeni, who has lived in the area for decades, said infrastructure and social services in the area have not improved despite billions generated from there.
“We have water problems and our vegetable gardens have dried up. Some people used to survive on fishing, but that is all gone. Diamond mining just brought misery for us, nothing else,” Mwaudzeni said.
Marange Development Trust (MDT), a local non-governmental organisation formed to fight for the community, said the water crisis has reached a crisis point.
A community share-ownership scheme once mooted by the government turned out to be a mirage; an unrealistic hope.
“Almost all the villagers are struggling to get access to clean water or just enough to survive. Those close to Tonhorai Diamond Base pay US$1 to access clean water, but the majority do not have that money and they continuously consume polluted water,” Malvern Mudiwa, the MDT chairperson, said.
“The few boreholes that were here have broken down. The community cannot raise enough funds to rehabilitate the boreholes. We need about US$2 500 to drill a new 40-metre deep borehole and US$50 to drill a five-metre deep one, but people do not have that money. Diamonds were pillaged to sponsor lavish lifestyles of political and business elites; the community was just left with nothing except physical and emotional scars,” he said.
Villagers died in the battle for the Marange diamonds, while others were left with severe injuries from beatings by security forces at the height of the fight for control of the diamond fields.
Most human rights abuses in Marange were perpetrated by the military in 2008 during Operation Hakudzokwi to rid the area of illegal artisanal miners. It left hundreds dead or maimed.
Human Rights Watch, in one of its reports, described cases of horrendous beatings, harassment and arbitrary arrests that left over 1 600 people thrown in a local prison over a few days.
Such human right abuses continue to this day. — www.zimferrets.org