CHIADZWA villagers say they are yet to benefit from the discovery of diamonds in the area, almost a decade after mining began in Manicaland Province.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Traditional leaders and villagers in Zimunya and Marange areas on Friday told members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth and Indigenisation that a majority of the diamond mining companies pursed profits at the expense of the welfare of locals and the development of the area.
They told the Justice Mayor Wadyajena-led committee that they felt “robbed”, adding they were better off as artisanal miners.
“We were deprived of our power as traditional leaders when these companies came to mine in Chiadzwa.
“It is the mining companies that are now powerful in this area,” headman Robert Chiadzwa said during a meeting with MPs at Chief Zimunya’s traditional court.
Villagers who spoke during public hearings conducted by the Parliamentary Committee, said their lives were better off before mining companies came to mine diamonds in the area.
Most of the roads in Chiadzwa, except a few, are in a bad state and as one drives through the area, they are greeted by sorry-looking homesteads.
Land degradation caused by some of the diamond mining activities is also visible, while villagers walk very long distances to catch buses to Mutare because movement of vehicles is restricted.
The mining area is full of pits and man-made mountains of soil and rubble.
One can barely see food crops. The few that are visible from the half-hectare plots given to villagers are a complete write off.
During the public hearings on Friday in Zimunya and Marange, villagers said while they respected President Robert Mugabe and his government, they wanted clear explanations as to who was benefitting from diamonds in the area and the fate of the missing $15 billion diamond revenue.
They said the $50 million allegedly pledged for Zimunya Marange Community Share Ownership Trust (CSOT) by the five mining companies was still outstanding.
Peter Mbiza of Ward 22 Zimunya Marange, said Mugabe should show that he is in charge.
“Mugabe is respected in other countries, but he is disrespected in Zimbabwe, where he was given a dummy cheque by mining companies to present to Zimunya Marange CSOT,” he said.
“These diamond miners look down upon Chiadzwa and prefer to fly private jets from Harare to Chiadzwa.
“We expected that by now Chiadzwa would be developed and that it would be a small town due to diamond mining activities.”
Councillor Winmore Mushakavanhu of Ward 23 told MPs that villagers were also disappointed that diamond cutting and polishing industries were being established in other cities instead of Chiadzwa.
Another councillor, Aaron Zimunya curtly said: “The truth is that Mugabe was lied to by mining companies about the $50 million. Go back [MPs] and tell the people in Harare that Zimunya Marange people are fuming.
“We want our $50 million and an explanation of how it will be paid when diamond mining companies are consolidated.”
However, the villagers and traditional leaders acknowledged that one of the miners, Mbada Diamonds, tried its best to engage in good corporate social responsibility activities.
Some even pleaded with the government to exclude Mbada from consolidation of diamond companies in the area.
The MPs were shown some of the schools developed in the area, particularly St. Noah College in Marange where Mbada poured in about $300 000 to build a modern primary and secondary school, which would be the envy of many in cities and towns. The school was officially opened by Mugabe in 2012 amid pomp and fanfare.
The primary school now enrols 2 782 pupils, while the secondary school has 900 students.
Mbada also built modern eight-roomed houses for local chiefs and headmen, complete with water tanks and electricity.
Headman Chiadzwa confirmed that the company embarked on a number of community programmes, which were benefitting thousands of villagers.
“Mbada Diamonds has been very friendly and even drilled three boreholes at the chief’s homestead,” Chiadzwa said, adding that most villages in the area benefitted from the boreholes drilled by the company.
“It is the only mining company that has helped villagers with food aid since we are in the dry region five.”
Headman Chiadzwa said Diamond Mining Company donated land where his new homestead was now located.
During a visit to the Mbada Diamonds mine, the company presented MPs with a statement from their audited accounts which stated that in the five years they had been operating, they contributed $472 million to the government through royalties, taxes and advance payments.
In its heydays, Mbada Diamonds claims to have made additional advance payments direct to the government for the payment of civil servants salaries, while $35 million was injected to an extensive corporate social responsibility programme. This saw the company winning several national CSR accolades from Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, Marketers Association of Zimbabwe and Buy Zimbabwe, among others.
In their quarterly food distributions, Mbada Diamonds claimed to have fed 7 000 families, schools, orphanages and clinics through the provision of basic food staffs.
The latest food distribution exercise was expected to be held on March 25, but was stopped as mining operations were suspended by government in February.