Stop mining sleaze!

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Two things happened in the last few weeks. First, civic society groups were finally allowed to tour Marange Resources diamond fields in Chiadzwa after a protracted fight that saw diamond researcher Farai Maguwu arrested in connection with his reports painting a gloomy picture of Zimbabwes rare find of the century.

Secondly, the worlds second largest platinum miner, South Africas Impala Platinum, finally succumbed to pressure from Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere to cede 51% of its local unit Zimplats to locals.

This followed a bitter wrangle with government over Zimplats empowerment plan. It now remains to be seen whether the beneficiaries of the 51% will now pay up for their stake.

These were significant milestones for the mining sector by any standard. For the story of Zimbabwe and her diamonds and platinum would make ones skin crawl.

Private security and public forces reportedly treat poor locals who happen to work around Chiadzwa, estimated to hold around $800 billion worth of diamonds, in a brutally exploitative manner.

Torture camps have been alleged in the past. While the recent visit by NGOs is a step in the right direction ahead of the Kimberley Process certification, sometime this year it did not entirely discount any such claims.

Zimbabwe has had a fair share of political challenges and constructs with many actors and players. The unstable power-sharing arrangement between Zanu PF and the two MDCs has not done much to insulate Zimbabwe from the claws of destructive extraction of the prized mineral resources.

Land remains a contentious issue, but the stepping-up of diamond exploitation especially by Chinese interests could have brought in many new pains, according to the NGOs.

One of the most notorious of these Chinese players in Marange diamond fields is an entity with a record of being the countrys largest known foreign investor.

The firm has a convenient base in Hong Kong where the secrecy jurisdiction allows the thriving of a huge network of more than 25 opaque subsidiaries reportedly known as 88 Queensway Group. Could the 88 Queensway Group a nexus between Chinese State Security Organs and Private Overseas Investment?

Though Hong Kong (I like the place) does not provide banking secrecy, firms within its jurisdiction are not required to include details of trusts, company ownership or beneficial ownership on public and official records.

There are speculations that this Chinese firm is closely tied to that countrys government through revolving door officials as well as by backdoor financing, resource trading and hidden beneficiaries. China refutes these suspicions and insists that there are no official ties with the company.

The firms ties with Angola also are however not so easy to deny. It is understood leading company officials are intertwined with Angola through at least nine different joint ventures under the umbrella of China-Sonangol.

It is believed the firm is a source of $2,9 billion in funding for Angola construction projects.

Long-time Angolan leader Jose Eduardo Dos Santos counts the head of these firms, also alleged to be Zimbabwean arms dealer as an old military academy classmate in the Soviet Union.

Interestingly, China-Sonangol and this Chinese firm are said to have invested $7 billion in Guinea and $8 billion in Zimbabwe. Hence, one of the diamond firms show the close ties between international diamond magnate Lev Leviev and Angola among others.

According to reports another Chinese firm operates under a veil of a thick military shield. Locals suspect that some of the Chinese employees at the mine are actually military personnel.

What is not in doubt is that the officials at these firms run the mines like a military formation.

Perhaps to ease relations between the Zimbabweans and the Chinese, the firms operate a dual form of administration with the Chinese running their own affairs in terms of staff management while the military take care of
security-related issues.

The lack of transparency in the operations in the diamond fields is captured by the arrests of Centre for Research and Development (CRD) s Farai Maguwu a couple of years back (He was, however, part of a team that toured Chiadzwa recently).

Maguwu said then: Whilst I cant commit myself to mentioning names, our observations indicate that some very senior military personnel and well-placed politicians are directly involved in (these Chinese mining) operations.

The involvement of the army in diamond mining in Marange is the saddest thing that has happened to the find of the century.

The CRD director was to be arrested for allegedly endangering national security for having information relating to the militarys gross human rights violations in Marange diamond fields.

Furthermore, although firms do not appear to mind mining in conflict zones, it does appear that at times they are wary of being associated with certain political figures.

This appeared to have been the predicament of Rio Tinto plc when they could not pinpoint exactly where in Africa their Murowa diamond mine is located.

The mine is in Zvishavane, but due to President Robert Mugabes heavily tainted human rights record, his unique economic policies and not so unique ways of winning elections, Rio might have understandably wanted to blur things a little bit.

The firm in a Press statement on May 29, 2008 gave general information such as that their Argyle diamond mine is in Australia, that the Diavik mine is in Canada, and that Murowa mine is in Africa.

Could they have forgotten where Murowa diamond mine a key contributor to their $1 billion diamond business is located?

Should Zimplats fear anything if its indigenisation plan approved by government recently is murky?

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