Government triggered the diamond rush in Marange in 2006 in a bid to get political mileage, a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed at the time.
BY OUR STAFF
In a 2009 report, Diamonds in the Rough: Human Rights Abuses in the Marange Diamond Fields of Zimbabwe, HRW accused government of abetting illegal mining at the diamond fields.
“The government effectively fostered the diamond rush at Marange. In an apparent attempt to get political mileage from the discovery, Zanu PF authorities in June 2006 declared the diamond fields free and open to anyone wishing to look for diamonds,” it said.
From July 2006, a diamond rush began, with thousands of people from other parts of Marange district, other parts of Zimbabwe, and other countries scrambling for the precious stones.”
It said the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) — the sole licensed buyer of diamonds until January 2009 when it was replaced by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe — appeared to have encouraged the view that the government tolerated illegal mining by purchasing diamonds from unlicensed local miners, in violation of the Precious Stones Trade Act.
“On September 25 2006, deputy Mines minister Tinos Rusere addressed local miners in Chiadzwa and told them to continue mining and selling their diamonds to the government,” HRW said.
It said when the scramble for diamonds peaked in October 2008, more than 35 000 were either buying or mining diamonds in Marange.
It said diamonds were smuggled out of the country via Mozambique, South Africa, and Harare International Airport, and then shipped to Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, India, Pakistan, and Europe, among other destinations.
HRW said the buyers of the diamonds from illegal miners were in two categories: agents/ middlemen and principal buyers (barons).
The agents, it said, travelled to the diamond fields to buy diamonds from individual miners, syndicates, or others on behalf of principal buyers. The principal buyers were often based in Mutare, Harare, Mozambique or South Africa.
“These buyers, who often enjoy political, military, police, or other official patronage, in turn sell the diamonds to other buyers in the international community,” HRW said.
HRW recommended that government should put in place mechanisms to ensure greater revenue transparency from diamond mining and ensure that the Marange community benefitted directly from the mining of diamonds in their area.
“This may be achieved by regularising diamond mining to stem smuggling, licensing local miners, taxing them and redistributing a portion of their revenue to the local community.”
It said that in the event that relocation of the local community around the diamond fields was found to be necessary and in the public interest, “ it had to be based on thorough consultation with affected communities, [to make] such relocation fully complies with national and international human rights standards”.
The relocations were done but affected villagers were short-changed after diamond producers reneged on earlier pledges.
The government gave mining concessions to various companies that went into partnerships with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation to stop the leakage of diamonds but according to President Robert Mugabe, this did not work.