As a Zimbabwean citizen and a civil society observer in the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, I will never forget the destructive role played by the South African government in the looting of Marange diamonds and promotion of lawlessness and anarchy in Zimbabwe’s multi-billion diamond sector between 2009 and 2012.
By Farai Maguwu
I am still shocked when I recall how South Africa overpowered the entire Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) to push for Marange diamonds sales at a time civil society and some governments were arguing that more reforms were needed. As chair of the African Diamond Producers Association (ADPA) in 2011, South Africa threatened to bring down the KPCS if the export ban on Marange was not lifted. This it did with a facade of political solidarity, but in reality to safeguard its selfish business interests in Zimbabwe’s diamond sector.
The Marange diamonds discovery was a great opportunity for Zimbabwe to lift itself up after close to a decade of recession. But due to South Africa’s looting of Marange diamonds and failure to act responsibly, Zimbabwe slid into the category of resource-cursed states whose massive natural wealth does not benefit its citizens. Thus the complicit role of successive South African governments in undermining good governance in Zimbabwe, including resource plunder is the main reason why Zimbabweans are flooding South Africa in search of jobs.
I am responding to President Jacob Zuma’s Freedom Day poser: “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and are in South Africa? Everybody criticises South Africa as if we have manufactured the problem. Even if people who are xenophobic are a minority, but what prompts these refugees to be in South Africa? It’s a matter we cannot shy away from discussing,” he asked.
Truly, this is a matter we must not shy away from discussing.
I had just returned home in December 2006 for a six-week holiday from my studies in Austria when I heard that massive diamond deposits had been discovered in Marange, eastern Zimbabwe. I returned to Austria in February 2007 and completed my studies in August of the same year. Many opportunities existed for me to settle in Europe. I turned them down because I wanted to do something, no matter how small, to make Zimbabwe a better place to live in. I also wanted to be close to my mother, now late, and the rest of my family.
But when I returned to Zimbabwe in August things had changed in Mutare both for the worse and for the good. There was massive wealth in the city. The cost of living had gone up such that I struggled to settle down. Landlords were now demanding US dollars and only those frequenting Marange were welcome as tenants. Then came November 2008 when government violently forced artisanal miners out of Marange. Seven months after taking over Marange, government announced that two mining companies, Canadile and Mbada Diamonds had been nocturnally licensed to mine in Marange.
Mbada Diamonds is a parity venture between the government of Zimbabwe through Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) through Marange Resources — a wholly owned ZMDC subsidiary — and The New Reclamation Group (South Africa) through Grandwell Holdings (a shell company registered in Mauritius).
Canadile Miners was also a 50/50 joint venture partnership between the government of Zimbabwe through ZMDC and a South African company, Core Mining and Mineral Resources. At first there did not seem to be much of a role played by the South African government in the events unfolding in Marange. But the silence of South Africa over the human rights violations in Marange was deafening.
Then things came to a head when Abbey Chikane, a South African national who was also the first chair of the KPCS, was appointed to monitor the implementation of the joint work plan agreed between Zimbabwe and the KPCS in Namibia in November 2009. On his first monitoring visit to Zimbabwe, Chikane refused to meet with the civil society. This despite civil society’s frantic efforts to meet him. He came under a barrage of attacks from the KPCS family for failing to respect the tripartite values of the KPCS which comprises governments, business and civil society. It was hinted that his reports would be viewed as partisan.
On his second visit, Chikane contacted me for a meeting, following which he reported me to Zimbabwe’s state security agents for allegedly passing on to him sensitive information.
This led to a dramatic raid of my home and office by police and CIO. The sensitive information was that human rights abuses and smuggling were continuing in Marange. These facts contradicted Chikane’s pre-written report which claimed Zimbabwe had surpassed the KPCS minimum standards.
Meanwhile, while South Africa was busy legitimising the plunder of Marange through manufacturing misleading reports, its citizens and dodgy companies were silently stealing Zimbabwe’s diamonds. In 2010, a South African national employed by Canadile Miners, [name withheld], was operating the Density Medium Separator at the Marange plant where he, along with fellow South Africans, went on a looting bonanza.
Mesmerised by his fortunes, he photographed himself with diamonds intending to show his colleagues across the border how one can easily get rich north of the Limpopo, that is, if he is South African. Cameras and cellphones were banned from the plant but this rule did not apply to South Africans. Canadile’s licence was later revoked by government on allegations that the licence was fraudulently acquired.
South Africa’s craving for Marange diamonds knew no bounds. In 2011, armed with Chikane’s monitoring report, the South African government, through the ADPA, threatened to destroy the KPCS if it didn’t unconditionally lift the export ban on Marange diamonds. During a heated KPCS intersessional meeting in Kinshasa in June 2011, the then South African’s Mines minister Susan Shabangu stunned delegates when she went to the podium shortly after the then Zimbabwe Mines minister Obert Mpofu’s to declare that South Africa was going ahead and purchasing Marange diamonds irrespective of the outcome of the intersessional deliberations on Zimbabwe.
As chair of ADPA, Shabangu led the ADPA delegation to Marange several times. They were granted “unfettered access” to Marange by the government.
Consequently, the Kimberly Process was pushed by ADPA, under the dominance of South Africa, to lift the export ban on Marange diamonds in November 2011. Marange diamonds became free for all. Successive Finance ministers in Zimbabwe have professed ignorance on where diamond revenue was going. It came as no surprise when government emerged to announce that alluvial diamonds in Marange were fast running out in 2014.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate how much Zimbabwe lost in potential revenue through illicit financial flows in Marange. There is no denying that billions in potential revenue were lost. If Marange was not an enclave economy, thanks to South Africa’s sub-imperial and super exploitative role in the region, these billions in lost revenue could have helped to revive Zimbabwe’s dying industry. Infrastructure could have been repaired. Agriculture could have been revived to save millions from starvation. Tens of thousands of jobs could have been saved and thousands more jobs created. But the hope of Marange has faded into the horizon.
Then fast forward to April 2015 and listen to President Jacob Zuma speak: “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and are in South Africa? Everybody criticises South Africa as if we have manufactured the problem. Even if people who are xenophobic are a minority, but what prompts these refugees to be in South Africa? It’s a matter we cannot shy away from discussing”, he said.
The question by President Zuma is rather unfortunate. How can Zimbabweans remain in their country when South Africa is undermining good governance in Zimbabwe?
How can Zimbabwe function properly when South Africa is undermining the constitutional role of Zimbabwe’s parliament? How can Zimbabweans continue to live in a country they have no stake in?
Humans do not survive on slogans and nationalism. They need food, they need healthcare, they need education and above all, they need opportunities to fulfil their dreams.