But the Mbada Diamonds Cup is a major public relations boob for the diamond miner. If Mbada thinks that by dumping their “moola” into football they can wash their name of the “dirty diamond” tag then they are mistaken.
Let’s take a look at the persona of the diamond miner as perceived by the general public. First of all, even the choice of name was unfortunate. Mbada— Shona for leopard — is a name associated with guile in its negative sense. It is associated with greed and underhand dealings to achieve an end. If someone says to you, “Uri mbada” (You’re a leopard) you should straight away go to church and repent!
But what else are the Marange diamonds, where Mbada operates, associated with? The Marange diamonds have been dubbed “bloody diamonds” by human rights groups because of Operation Hakudzokwi (No return).
This was a crackdown by security forces on illegal diamond miners in the Marange area which peaked in 2008. When diamonds were discovered in the Chiadzwa area of Marange district, Zimbabwe was going through one of its worst periods in history; the economy had imploded and starvation was widespread. The discovery of diamonds therefore was seen by people living in extreme penury as godsend manna triggering a diamond rush. It was not Zimbabweans only who flooded the area but people came from as far afield as Lebanon in the Middle East in pursuit of their fortune.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba, in his column which he writes under the penname Nathaniel Manheru, described Marange then as the “wild-wild East” and urged for a “shock therapy” to clean the area. Operation Hakudzokwi was just that “therapy” but it was heavily criticised by human rights groups because of the heavy-handedness that accompanied it.
They said hundreds of people had lost their lives in the crackdown; government disputes this but eyewitness accounts seem to corroborate it. Charamba gloatingly said that captured diggers were being made to use their bare fingers to refill gullies they dug.
“The deep gullies are being refilled with bare hands and fingers are sore and finishing, well before a quarter of the job is done. I do not think diamond hunters will descend on Chiadzwa ever again.”
On June 26 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report in which it alleged that in Operation Hakudzokwi the government deployed more than 800 soldiers drawn from three army units under the overall command of Air Marshal Perence Shiri and General Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Human Rights Watch said in the report: “Military abuses in Marange also included denial of medical care to victims of abuse in the community, including those who sustained dog-bite wounds and injuries from beatings or gunshots.
“Nurses based in the local community told Human Rights Watch that soldiers instructed them not to render medical care to any person who sustained injury by whatever means on the diamond fields.”
In all, according to reports in The Herald, more than 35 000 people were arrested under Operation Hakudzokwi.
International diamond certification group, the Kimberley Process, also released a preliminary report accusing the army and police of looting diamonds in the area. It accused the security forces of committing human rights abuses and recommended their withdrawal from Marange.
The reports do not implicate the mining companies, Mbada and Canadile in the atrocities but paint the diamonds as dirty for this reason. But by association the miners also become dirty. Obviously this provides the rationale behind public relations efforts such as the football cup to present a positive image to the public.
Not only is Mbada going to give the US$1 million prize money, it has ensured that the matches are spread throughout the country and are overwhelmingly attended by providing transport to spectators in some cities all at huge cost.
But is there a hint of profligacy in all this? Of course there is. The public knows that there is a lot of money to be made in diamonds and there is speculation that diamond auctions are being held in the dark, that is, out of public scrutiny. Speculation is also rife that there is a lot of corruption in the diamond industry. I emphasise the word “speculation” because these allegations have not been proven as fact but suffice to say that it is speculation that builds the public’s perception of anything especially opaque companies.
In short the public perception of the diamond miners of Chiadzwa is that the diamonds are dirty because people have been killed; the miners are not transparent and therefore corrupt and the diamond money is not trickling down to the people.
One does not clean this image by extravagance as we are seeing in the Mbada Diamonds Cup. If anything, the spending is seen by the general public as reckless and therefore reinforces the negativity associated with the mining company. It’s like power utility Zesa sponsoring football under floodlights in an attempt at PR. Not only will people take it as a huge joke but they will call for the sacking of the entire Zesa management.
What Mbada needs to do to portray a positive image to the public is to open up on how it extracts its diamonds, who it employs, how it sells the diamonds and how the general populace benefits from this national resource. A company cannot remain opaque on these issues and hope that sponsoring a football tournament will launder its image.
What are the major issues vexing the nation at the moment? Inadequate electricity, lack of potable water in urban areas and a woefully underpaid civil service are the issues that keep the nation awake.
The people look up to the diamond miners to help solve these problems by transparently selling the diamonds and dutifully remitting their dues to the national kitty. That way the Mbada PR department would not look so foolish.
By Nevanji Madanhire