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Vic Falls indaba a damp squib

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The Victoria Falls Diamond Conference has come and gone. But is there anything for the country to show for it?

Opinion by Wisdom Mdzungairi

For some reason I doubt. Although the conference theme was Unlocking Zimbabwe’s Diamond Potential Together, I want to argue that it appears the bulk of the invited guests could have been a hired crowd.

The reasons being there was hardly any constructive voice although the Kimberley Process (KP) members have always labelled our gemstones “blood diamonds” whatever that means.

From the look of things, the conference, which was meant to address the country’s economic growth, unemployment, broad-based empowerment to control and manage the gemstones, lure investors, ensure the diamonds assist in alleviating the liquidity crunch, indigenisation and, above all, the creation of a local diamond industry, failed to live up to its billing.

Besides, if Mines minister Obert Mpofu and company were worried about the “bad boy tag” put by the KP, then it was only logical that the conference should have been held somewhere in Manicaland province where the diamond mines are.

This for transparent reasons –that is if there is any legitimacy in whatever we are doing. This could have shown the world beyond any reasonable doubt how compliant the Zimbabwe is. After the conference perhaps the invited guests could have been taken around the diamond fields and the local Chiadzwa community.

But the fact that the conference was held some 1 000km away speaks volumes about its intent and purpose. One can simply conclude that the holding of the conference from where things are happening could have so many meanings.

Could President Robert Mugabe have been hoodwinked into rubber-stamping a diamond fair under the guise of a conference meant to deal with bread and butter issues? For if indeed the Victoria Falls gathering was of national importance, why would the event be organised and funded by foreigners? It is a fact that the conference was organised by a Dubai-based diamond buyer and moderated by an Israeli – both foreigners.

Isn’t it ironic that the Mines ministry could have a master-servant arrangement with rough diamonds buyers – in this case Zimbabwe being the servant? Unbelievable, isn’t it?

There are so many unanswered questions in many Zimbabweans’ minds and there is no doubt that the best that the conference could have settled for was to ensure the creation and undivided support for the local diamond industry given the fact that Chiadzwa diamonds have created (I am told) one million jobs so far in India alone.

How much more could be created if 90% of the rough diamonds were cut and polished locally? Zimbabwe has an unemployment rate of 90%, therefore it is incredible what could be achieved through cutting and polishing by the local industry. Wouldn’t the diamonds absorb half the number of unemployed youths?

Instead, the conference turned out to be a diamond fair where rough diamond buyers from elsewhere simply showcased their profiles trying to convince local diamond administrators to sell them even more quantities to sustain their failing industries.

It is sad to learn that only 10% of the total mined diamonds in the country are sold to the local diamond industry, yet that figure should be for export while 90% is consumed locally.

With the expertise the country now boasts of, Zimbabwe does not need any foreigner to teach them about cutting and polishing the gemstones.

Mpofu has alluded to it in the past, so he is aware of this development since his ministry is the licensing authority for diamond schools. Mpofu should go back to the drawing board and include all interested partners into the equation regardless of political or personal differences for the country’s benefit. Agreed no one can ever have enough money, but it is time to move on as a country for posterity’s purpose.

I also challenge Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere to stand up and be counted –take the bull by its horns and right the wrongs here otherwise he does not have black economic empowerment to talk about in the diamond industry. Kasukuwere should not feel comfortable with the community share trusts that he has had Mugabe launch one after the other countrywide. Community share trusts are not part of a government programme at all. If anything, companies the world over are required to pay back to communities they operate from.
With all due respect to organisers of the Victoria Falls Diamond Conference, how could we gather to decide on selling even more uncut diamonds to foreign dealers so that we could sustain their countries’ industries? In the end one is tempted to ask: Did the conference sell a real deal or a cubic zirconia?
millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com/twitter.com/wisdomdzungairi

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