MUTARE — Villagers from the eastern border area of Marange where diamonds are mined say the discovery of the precious mineral has brought them more misery than happiness.
BY OBEY MANAYITI
They have harrowing tales of physical and emotional abuse to tell which they say came about following the launch of the infamous Operation Hakudzokwi in 2008. The joint police and military operation was brought to drive away illegal diamond seekers.
Most of the villagers have since been forcibly translocated to Arda Transau, a settlement far away from their original homes, with promises of a better life, including modern houses and social amenities.
Broken villagers told stories of their unhappiness at a function held in Mutare last week to commemorate their removal from their ancestral homes to Arda Transau.
Myness Matanda, who now lives at the new settlement, told delegates attending the commemoration that her life needed magical transformation to be restored to where it was before the discovery of the gems.
“I was a very free person who focused on the upliftment of my family during our stay in Marange before the discovery of the diamonds,” she said.
“This all ended when we were told that there were diamonds in our area as rowdy people (illegal panners) started trooping to the area in search of the precious stones.
“It is important for the world to know that during this illegal mining period, our lives briefly changed for the better since we were able to make money through selling food items to the illegal diamond seekers and our children could also go pick up the stones.”
“Trouble started when the government launched Operation Hakudzokwi where armed soldiers treated us like thieves or war time enemies. They violated every right that we used to enjoy and brutalised us in a manner unimaginable for fellow countrymen.
“We couldn’t figure out their real mission. Women were raped, young boys and men were tortured and many were killed. A lot of our property was destroyed and the future of our children was shattered in our eyes. It was bad,” Matanda said.
She said villagers were later forced to relocate to Arda Transau where each household was allocated a four-roomed house on a small piece of land where they now live from selling firewood.
Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu whose organisation joined hands with others to organise the Marange commemoration said remembering the era of the diamond curse would pressure government to review its policies for the diamond sector.
“The objective of this commemoration is to remember the people who fell in Marange; to remember the families who were displaced from Marange who are still suffering and actually condemned to new forms of poverty,” Maguwu said.
“We also want to remind the nation that we still need healing in Marange because a lot of things happened there.
“Healing is important especially when people are allowed to speak out because when they speak you can see and feel emotions coming out,” said Maguwu.
Zimbabwe Peace Project programmes coordinator Goodhope Ruswa said his organisation was committed to working towards ending human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
He said it was unfortunate that people were brutalised because of resources found in their area.
“Human rights are inclusive and indivisible. In that regard civil and political rights are equally important as social and economic rights and the government has an obligation to protect and respect the rights of every citizen,” he added.
Lovemore Mukwada from Mukwada Village, Ward 9 of Marange said the area had become inhabitable owing to pollution and different forms of abuse.
“As Marange people we are not there to fight. We are not a fighting group. I don’t know why we were tortured as happened and is still happening in Marange. To us inhabitants of Marange, we have nothing really to show for the diamonds found in our area besides the pain that we are enduring,” he said.
More than 200 people are reported to have died in Chiadzwa while thousands more were physically brutalised.
Charles Magobeya who has a family of nine children said the four-roomed house which he was given at the new settlement is too small and cannot be compared to the one he had built for himself in Chiadzwa.
“I received no compensation for my property and livestock when we were dumped in Arda Transau. Our case can be likened to the biblical story of the children of Israel.
“I am the school development committee chairperson for a local school in Transau and I can tell you that about 1 300 children are made to share just seven classrooms. We had to erect pole and grass sheds to provide more learning room for our children. I question the quality of education that our children are getting under these circumstances,” he said.
Another villager, Adam Chikosi said the people were not used to the semi-urban environment in Arda Transau where they are made to pay for water to Zinwa.
He said he witnessed gross human rights abuse both in Marange and in Arda Transau yet government departments were doing nothing to help them.
Lorraine Marima from Chiadzwa Development Trust said before they were removed from their original homes each family had between seven to 10 hectares where they grew drought resistant crops but the villagers were now surviving from selling firewood.
Reverend Maengamhuru from ZimRights told the delegates that Chiadzwa people were originally from the eastern highlands but were also displaced to Marange to pave way for plantations during the colonial era.
He said what was happening rekindled sad memories where people were displaced to allow powerful people access to their resources.
Maengamhuru said his organisation was documenting all the human rights violations in Marange.
Rashid Mahiya from Heal Zimbabwe Trust said the truth should be established to find who had deployed armed forces to brutalise the villagers.
Mahiya said there should be compensation to cover for the lost property, time and disturbances as part of the healing process.
He said there should be counselling for the victims and survivors as well as a support scheme for medication for all those who were affected.
Mahiya also demanded that perpetrators of human rights abuses in Marange should come out in the open and publicly apologise for their deeds.