The inaugural Zimbabwe International Diamond Conference that opens in Victoria Falls today offers the government a golden chance to clean this opaque, but crucial mining sector.
About five years ago, Zimbabwe discovered one of the largest diamond fields in Africa, which experts say has the potential to supply 25% of the world’s diamonds.
The discovery triggered a mad rush that saw impoverished Zimbabweans and dealers from all over Africa descending on the Marange diamond fields to seek a fortune.
It is estimated that over 200 people were brutally killed in 2008 alone by police and soldiers who were deployed to restore order.
The brutality forced the Kimberley Process — the worldwide watchdog set up to curb the trade in conflict diamonds — to impose a ban on Zimbabwe.
Although the ban was subsequently lifted, suspicions persist that the diamonds are being looted by an elite that replaced the small-scale miners and smugglers in Marange.
Finance minister Tendai Biti had projected that this year government will get $600 million from the sale of diamonds, but the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation has since revised that figure downward to $150 million.
Many Zimbabweans who had pinned their hopes on the Marange diamonds to lift the economy that has been in decline for more than a decade have been demanding answers on what happened to the money that Biti anticipated.
Zanu PF has often used the sanctions mantra to skirt these pertinent questions.
Its opponents believe Marange has become a source of serious corruption nurtured by Zanu PF’s alleged parallel government structures.
They cite Zanu PF’s recent acquisition of over 500 vehicles and President Robert Mugabe’s controversial $20 million agriculture input scheme whose source of funds remains a mystery as evidence that diamond revenue is being siphoned off.
Mines and Mining Development permanent secretary Prince Mupazviriho said the conference would seek to demonstrate that all diamond operations are above board.
“We have nothing to hide despite the negative international views that we get regarding our diamonds,” he was quoted as saying yesterday.
It will take a lot to convince the world that there is no cover-up in Marange and the government must seize the opportunity availed by the Victoria Falls conference to ensure that the vast mineral wealth is used to transform the economy and benefit all Zimbabweans.
The government must also demonstrate to investors that Zimbabwe is open to investment in the mining sector.