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Politics and mining: A pact made in hell

Politicians have taken advantage of the “diamond” momentum to air out their views, which in more ways than one, are crucial and reflective of their campaign strategies. Each  party wants to paint a clean picture of its mining “aspirations” in the eyes of the electorate.

There has been a lot of hullabaloo on where the revenue from diamonds is landing, and fingers have been pointed resulting in the issue being contentious and, maybe, influencing a certain fragment of society to label the existence of diamonds “a resource curse” for Zimbabwe.

Flamboyant and controversial Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer announced his bid to challenge federal treasurer Wayne Swan for his local Queensland state seat in the national elections next year.

The Australian self-made mining billionaire is reportedly beefing up his candidature to stand for the National Liberal Party. Another billionaire miner Andrew Forrest is currently involved in a war of words with the same country’s treasurer, Swan, over the recently imposed government mining tax; accusing him of capitulating to the mining power houses for political reasons.

However, sincere these two mining gurus are in defending their causes, it is common knowledge that these sentiments are based on the premise of protecting their interests and desired outcomes.

Back home, controversy surrounds Kwekwe Consolidated Gold Mine, with widespread speculation that a retired air marshal is protecting Australian national Lee Waverly John, who is alleged to have taken over the mine illegally.

Why would prominent politicians influence and fuel the existing ownership wrangle? Definitely, there is a chunk for them in return. Concentrating on mining brings with it certain vulnerabilities associated with export dependence; vulnerability arising from mineral price volatility and dependence reinforced by the upstream economic actors.

Mining has also been relatively associated with unsustainable patterns of development and growth. Potosi in Bolivia was at one time matched with London when it was at its peak of extractive activity; with silver ore being shipped to Spain, but now, the city reflects a very poor capital of a chronically impoverished department.

This scenario is reflective of the post-mining era, which at one time Zimbabwe should be prepared to experience after the minerals are gone if the cards are not played right. Whether we are going to look back and attribute that to the Western forces of imperialism remains to be seen; or maybe the tables would have turned whereby the “Look East” policy would be a subject of ridicule and labelled a political blunder.

Mineral levels lead to certain levels of consumption and investment during boom periods; but these cannot be sustained in the advent of subsequent downswings. This brings to the fore the issue of good governance and mineral wealth. However, we try to sweep the issue under the carpet; transparency and accountability become indispensable requirements for any meaningful economic gains.

After the diamonds are gone? What next for Zimbabwe? Recent reports indicate that diamond polishing has created thousands of jobs in India; yet millions of Zimbabwean youths roam the streets ravaged by high unemployment levels.

If institutional conditions are not right, it is my view that minerals are better off under ground; unexplored. It works against development to explore for the benefit of a minority few; especially when mining licenses are dubiously granted to our “Eastern comrades”, the Chinese.

 

BY  SOFIA MAPURANGA CHARI

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