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The Chiadzwa underworld: How gems smuggling is thriving in Zim

SITTING under a shade with eyes glued on a road in Mozambique’s Manica town’s affluent suburb, a group of five young men scans all directions for potential suppliers of diamonds.

By OBEY MANAYITI

The street is notoriously known for illegal sale of Zimbabwe’s smuggled diamonds and the group is quick to approach passersby, asking if they have good diamond parcels.
Other smaller groups are milling around and in a bid to ward off competition, they brag about how their different “bosses” are loaded with cash and give good prices.
As a conversation between this group and the news crew begins, a white man *Moses (not his real name) arrives while driving a top-of-the-range vehicle in what later turns to be one of his frequent visits to get updates and to “motivate” his guys to look for more parcels.

After a few pleasantries and convinced that the news crew might seriously want to do business, Moses opens up on his trade.

He looks very popular in the neighbourhood with passersby calling him “boss” briefly stopping to greet him.

It’s not a secret, he wants diamonds and is looking for genuine fixers from Zimbabwe.

“If you have links we will do business. What do you have for me?” he exclaims in excitement. He, however, gets a bit frustrated after the news crew identifies itself.
“We get diamonds from Zimbabwe. We have several ways to get the diamonds and the first one is that we have people in Zimbabwe that we give money to go to the diamond fields and they get the diamonds.

“The other way is that people can just come here with their parcels and we buy. We are attractive in terms of pricing because we offer relatively higher prices than those offered in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Asked to explain how they get the money and how they sell the diamonds too, Moses is a bit evasive.

“The majority of people are runners. You will not see the actual buyer on the street. What I mean with runners is that a person can come with $2 million and distribute it to some people who will then go and buy the diamonds. They work on commission.

“We plant a lot of people, even on the streets or market, to look for diamonds. A lot of people are coming from Zimbabwe and, even though the diamonds are fewer these days, we are still in business.

“The actual people who bring the money are coming from Dubai and Lebanon. How the diamonds are transported to those countries I cannot tell you,” he said.

Our news crew also talked to people who were disguising themselves as foreign currency dealers in Manica looking for diamonds at very busy places like the markets.

Besides diamonds, they will also be looking out for other minerals like gold, which is in abundance in nearby mountains in both Manica province of Mozambique and Manicaland province of Zimbabwe.

Several sources told this publication that a network involving people from different professions, including local aviation, are involved in the smuggling of diamonds.
“The diamond industry is controlled by very rich people and they have their ways to get what they want. They charter planes to transport their diamond parcels and there is little that can be done to stop them,” a source familiar with how smugglers operate said.

In Zimbabwe, illegal diamond panners working with mine workers and security guards still get diamonds from the Marange fields.

Since the beginning of the diamond rush in 2006, Marange diamonds have attracted thousands of people who flocked to the diamond fields for purposes of panning or illegal trade.

Over the years, the practice has slowed down because of heavy security presence but out of poverty, people still find their way to Marange.

The panners stay in mountains or lodge in nearby homesteads.

They bribe mine security personnel to get access to the diamond fields through forming syndicates with either the security themselves or some diamond buyers bribe the security details on their behalf.

There have been many reports of intruders being assaulted for trying to get access without reaching an understanding with the mine workers.

A local community-based organisation, Marange Development Trust (MDT), said it requires co-operation from different sectors to arrest the situation.

“As MDT, though we appreciate that people are gaining access to the diamond concessions because of poverty, some people caught in the diamond fields are badly assaulted, bitten by dogs or assaulted. As a result, some sustain serious injuries while others even die,” MDT chairman Malvern Mudiwa said.

“We are suggesting that the mining company, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), must refrain from brutal treatment of these civilians who are not armed.
“Instead we want the company to introduce small-scale income-generating projects so as to mitigate on poverty. On the other hand, security guards must not compromise on their jobs. We also urge ZCDC to remunerate its workers well to avoid corruption,” Mudiwa said.

He also said his community is willing to join hands with the mining company to fight illegal diamond dealings.

Panners who spoke to The Standard in Marange said they are lured to trespassing into Chiadzwa because of poverty.

They gave intriguing details of how they gain access to the diamond fields.

“In most cases we don’t spend more than a week here. I am part of a syndicate of buyers who pay security guards $100 to gain access to the diamond field for almost an hour.

“So the buyer pays the money and we sell whatever we get to him. It’s not daily that we get big money, but we cannot go for five consecutive days with nothing.

“That is how most people survive, that is the standard and if you have such an arrangement you will not be harassed by the security,” a panner, who identified himself as George Mhlanga, said.

He gave different accounts of how those who refuse to pay get harassed when they are caught.

He said in most cases they lose their diamond ore and get assaulted by the mine security or law enforcers and arrested.    

In the Marange area, especially at Mukwada business centre, which is near the diamond fields, buyers driving top-of-range vehicles are always going around looking for the diamonds.

One buyer said the majority of people buying diamonds were acting on behalf of big personalities stationed in Mutare, Harare or Mozambique and they were the ones who gave them the money.

“We are here but this is not our money. We are paid on commission, but sometimes we devalue the diamonds here and lie that they were expensive on remittance. Before their final destination, diamonds pass through many hands of up to 20 people. This is how the diamonds black market operates: I buy from you and sell to the next person and the next person will sell to another one until they reach the final destination, which many people don’t know,” he said.

Farai Maguwu, the director at Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a local nongovernmental organisation that works on promoting accountability and transparency in the Marange diamonds, said the illegal diamond trade was still rife.

“The number of artisanal miners in Chiadzwa is still high and this means diamond smuggling is rife. The diamonds are sold mainly in Mutare and Manica in Mozambique,” Maguwu said.

Maguwu estimated that about 500 panners enter the diamond fields daily in groups of about 10 people.

“Each group gets anything ranging from 1 to 10 carats per shift, which runs into thousands of carats per week.

“Our government can’t deal with diamond smuggling because it has criminalised artisanal mining,” Maguwu, who has been calling for ways in which panning of diamonds can be legalised, said.

He described as a win-win situation because the panners will sell directly to government agents, hence the revenue gets to government.

Maguwu argued that arresting and prosecuting the panners will not stop diamond smuggling, hence it was better to grant panners permission to mine and in turn, get the diamonds and bring them into the formal market where taxes will be honoured.

“The only reasonable way to deal with smuggling is to regularise artisanal mining and offer competitive prices for the diamonds,” he added.

According to investigations by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela), law enforcers and customs officials manning the Mozambican-Zimbabwean Forbes Border Post are equally to blame for smuggling.

Zela’s Shamiso Mtisi told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Mines and Energy on Friday last week that smuggling of diamonds into countries like Mozambique was rife.

Mtisi said efforts must be made to ensure the country sticks to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) and also tighten border control to avoid leakages.
“Diamonds are susceptible to smuggling and in Marange we have had syndicates involving diggers, dealers, police and the military to take diamonds out of Marange,” Mtisi said.

“What it means is that there is inadequate security and it means there is non-compliance with Kimberley Process Certification Scheme minimum requirements.

“It also means there isn’t enough co-operation between the law enforcement agents and the customs department at the border posts, especially Forbes, where diamonds are being smuggled into Mozambique although they end up in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Dubai, China and others,” he said.

Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Manicaland spokesman Tavhiringwa Kakohwa told this publication last Tuesday that he had no records of escalating illegal diamond dealings although police sources claim almost on a daily basis, they make arrests of people trespassing into the diamond fields.

On Monday February 19 and at Mutare magistrates’ courts, five suspected illegal diamond dealers from Chimamani district appeared before magistrate Tendai Mahwe after they were found in possession of 10 pieces of diamonds in Mutare.

ZCDC chief executive officer Morris Mpofu confirmed trespassing by illegal panners into their diamond concessions thereby fuelling the smuggling of diamonds.

He said the only effective way of dealing with smuggling was to close the market.

“You know in the alluvial diamond mining environment diamonds are easy to pick up so I cannot say we are not having our fair share of illegal panning, but the reason why they are coming in Chiadzwa to pick diamonds is because there is a market,” he said.

“What we need is good security and risk management so that we close that market so that they won’t have anywhere to sell those diamonds. So the market is the problem and we need to solve that by enhancing security.

“We are engaging reputable international consultancies (who) are coming to do an audit of the whole value chain of the diamond process to ensure that we protect our KPCS licence because the moment we continue to have exposes and leakages, we can have challenges in the future,” he added.

l This story was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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