Four years after the discovery of vast diamond deposits in the Chiadzwa community, Marange communal lands in Manicaland province — perhaps the largest known reserve in the world — Zimbabwe today hosts yet another high-profile talk shop in Victoria Falls. Yet very few investors have been willing to cross the Rubicon.
Report by Wisdom Mdzungairi
Dubbed the Zimbabwe Diamond Conference, it is reported to have been oversubscribed as it emerged local and international organisations were still making efforts to book seats and attend the “inaugural edition” of the indaba in the country. For all that we know, it is not the first diamond conference in the country per se, but perhaps it is the first that the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development has fully funded. The fact of the matter is that Mines minister Obert Mpofu and his top officials have in the past hopped from one conference to another since the huge Chiadzwa find.
But after so much globetrotting with the authorities gracing local, regional and international diamond conferences, one wonders what the Victoria Falls one would achieve. I do not doubt what diamonds could achieve, but events of the last four years have somewhat yielded little, if not nothing at all, for the country except perhaps the plunder of the resource by a few privileged individuals. If Zimbabwe had wanted, she could have learnt a thing or two from her neighbours –South Africa which discovered its diamonds over a century ago or Botswana whose deposits were found almost five decades ago, Namibia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name, but a few.
Besides non-diamond producing countries such as Belgium, Dubai, Israel and United States of America’s economies are ticking because of diamonds from countries like Zimbabwe that have no clear beneficiation policies. Who will blame these countries for taking advantage of these loopholes?
History tells us that before Botswana discovered diamonds in the 1960s, she had only one main road and her economy was driven by mainly cattle farming, but since the discovery of diamonds the economy drastically transformed into the best in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its GDP is 60% funded by diamonds and yet with all the diamonds Zimbabwe is producing monthly, she has dismally failed to meet a target of a paltry $600 million.
What really is happening here? Who is to blame? Is it Mpofu –probably the country’s richest politician of our time — or is it the governance system itself? Where did the wheels come off? Has the Chiadzwa find become a curse for Zimbabwe? Whatever the case, it appears to me that Zimbabwe will/may not even benefit any cent from the list of invited guests at the Victoria Falls conference given the fact that almost all of them are in the country to buy rough diamonds to sustain their ailing industries back home.
To the generality of Zimbabweans, there is no reason now or in the future why we should continue giving away rough diamonds to those who are going to make more money with us. Accused of being opaque, corrupt and murderous, our diamond sector must polish its image. This calls for beneficiation, finish! The Mines ministry has evidently lost the plot, failed to take advantage of the exposure which they had for so long, yet they continue to invite countries whose ailing industries have failed due to shortage of rough diamonds on the international market to begin to revive them at the expense of the people.
Given the successful stories in Botswana, South Africa and Namibia, Zimbabwe does need to sell rough diamonds anymore. For by so doing we are simply exporting labour and frustrating the creation of local industries, with unemployment in the country standing at between 80%-90%. It is a naked truth that the Chiadzwa diamonds have created 60 000 jobs in India over four years, and yet we appear determined to continue feeding their industries at the same time claiming to have the interests of the people at heart. What double speak!
By exporting 90% of rough diamonds, we are prejudicing the economy of the much-needed revenue to the fiscus — itself a source of friction between Finance minister Tendai Biti and Mpofu, yet the country had anchored its hopes of economic recovery on diamonds.
Instead of following what countries represented at the conference are doing by, for example, buying for value addition, boosting their economies, creating employment and assisting downstream industries, we seem happy with the status quo –where some diamonds administrators have become some of the richest in the region if not the world. Can the Mines ministry convince Zimbabweans that they do not know the consequences of selling 90% of the country’s rough diamonds to other nations? Or is it a deliberate ploy to suppress the majority?
Is it not curious that despite the abundance of minerals, Zimbabwe has failed to sustain a measly $4 billion budget? Is it not time the Mines ministry was compelled to manage diamonds transparently and is it not common cause that it is only through this that diamonds will benefit the country?
One wonders whether the Victoria Falls invited will be sold the real deal or a cubic zirconia.