HomeLocal NewsChiadzwa: despair in diamond heartland

Chiadzwa: despair in diamond heartland

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Simon Maswera (38) of Hot Springs in Chiadzwa cannot forgive himself for blowing away a golden chance that could have brought him instant riches.
His father – just like his grandfathers before him – lies buried in diamonds. But their lives, of which his own is a mirror, were sordid tales of poverty and hardship in this arid region in one of the country’s remote areas.
When it was first discovered in 2006 that there was a rich diamond belt in his home area, Simon was hesitant to join the mad rush, and by the time he decided to, it was rather late as government had stepped in and set up a joint police and military security cordon.
Interaction with the people of this dusty area, which is not very good for agriculture, shows that most of them have not benefited from this rich resource – and they doubt if they ever will.
The grind of their daily lives continues, as if in rhythm to the grinding sound of the hi-tech mining equipment in the diamond fields. Life has not been easy since the discovery of this highly valued mineral. Fadzai (25), who lives in the area, was working in Mozambique when the diamond rush began in 2006, but by the time she returned, it was a bit late, so she did not accrue significant benefits.
“Of course I managed to buy household property just before the soldiers came in,” she said in her flowing Manyika dialect, adding that she would have wanted to do more. She also bought a residential stand, but she was not able to develop it as the money supply line from the precious stones was blocked.
She has now turned to the modest cross-border trade to earn a living as her hopes, just like those of many locals, of building solid livelihoods upon the gemstones increasingly fade away like mist in the sun. One of the security officers at Canadile Mining, a company extracting the gems at one of the diamond sites, was upbeat that the area would see, in the next few years, unprecedented development of greater proportion than in any rural setting in Zimbabwe.
“Youths in this area have received preferential treatment from the mining companies here,” he said.
This, however, remains to be seen as mining companies in Zimbabwe generally pay little, regardless of the arduous and taxing labour employed in the extraction of the gems.
The youths that have been employed by the two miners at the fields – Canadile and Mbada Diamonds – are less than 1 000.
Currently, they are reportedly earning between $70 and $100 a fortnight. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that those who have benefited more from these diamonds were outsiders, rather than locals of this otherwise laid back and serene rural settlement.
Another villager, who identified himself as Simba (35), regretted that in the wild excitement of the early days, they gave away their diamonds cheaply.
“Some South African would drive all the way here with maize or mealie-meal to exchange with diamonds,” he said.
With the central locations of the diamond now a high security zone, daring locals however still make forays at the outskirts of the diamond fields, particularly under the cover of darkness, where they can still lay their hands on the precious stones.
“They usually sell the diamonds at the local shopping centre,” he said, “but that can be dangerous because of the presence of the security agents”.
In times of economic decay, the discovery of highly coveted minerals like diamonds can turn out to be a curse. Some of the people at Hot Springs and the nearby Nyanyadzi Business Centre now regret the discovery of the diamonds.
“They have brought more misery than joy,” said Simba, regretably. “Apart from the strangers, the presence of the police and the military are enough to instill fear in people.”
He added that had it not been for the discovery of the coveted mineral, they would still have been leading their normal lives, regardless of the poverty and hardships.
A few weeks earlier, a joint police and military “operation” saw people at the receiving end of the security agents’ wrath.
“They accused people here of dealing in diamonds,” Simba said. “But I think it’s just sheer brutality.”
The authorities are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that security in the area is water-tight to avoid any leakage of the precious stones.
Driving between Mutare urban and the diamond fields, there are not less than five joint military and police roadblocks, where one has to explain where they are going and the nature of their business.
“Even when you do not see the soldiers or the police all the time, ” said Fadzai, “their huge shadow seems to loom menacingly over the area”.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Moyo was on record saying the diamond fields have been demilitarised in keeping with the recommendation of the Kimberly Process, but can you totally demilitarise a place where people would do anything to lay hands on the gemstones?
NewsDay established during its recent visit to Chiadzwa that most of the security personnel at the fields were ex-army and police officials.
“You need these people because they are better suited to deal with the menace of the panners,” said one security officer.
The companies mining the diamonds here have reportedly unearthed human skeletons, and this was confirmed by security officers at the diamond fields.
It was, however, not clear whether or not these skeletons belonged to illegal miners killed there or were just accidental exhumations from some old graves, as hinted by other villagers.
Until 2005, Chiadzwa was like a place off the map of the known world. Even Zimbabweans living outside Manicaland had no idea where the area – which of late has dominated discussions in Western capitals – was located.
Some people living there have since been relocated to Odzi where, even those who had no more than hovels in Chiadzwa – now have got decent four-roomed houses.
But locals say it will take perhaps three years for all the people within the vicinity of the diamonds to be relocated.
But for people like Simon, the story of Chiadzwa is one of missed opportunities and hardships amid wealth.

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