Communities surrounding the Chiadzwa diamond fields fear victimisation by State security officers after hundreds of illegal panners stormed the area seeking to gain entry into the highly protected area.
OBEY MANAYITI in Marange
This comes following reports of massive deployment of both police and soldiers to guard the diamond fields after Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa ordered mining companies to stop extraction of diamonds on Monday.
Since Monday, illegal panners from all over the country have been trooping to Chiadzwa, where they also reportedly stole and vandalised mining equipment.
“When we heard that mining companies are closing, we started to see an increase in people, whom we suspect to be panners, here,” James Zingwe from Mangwadza village in Buhera, which is adjacent to the diamond fields, said.
“Our fear stems from that we hear there has been heavy deployment of security details to monitor the situation and stop panning, stealing and vandalising mining equipment.
“We are also told they will be coming to our villages to flash out the panners. The problem is that some years back when they conducted Operation Hakudzokwi, many of us were brutalised and we fear the same.”
Villagers said they had been warned not to move around without national identity cards to avoid being rounded up as well.
“We have not been getting any meaningful development in our area from diamond mining companies. We appreciate the decision taken by the government to stop mining because we were facing a lot of challenges, especially considering that we have been left impoverished by mining,” Andrew Kundiona of Hot Springs said.
“This is our time now to mine and sustain ourselves. The government shouldn’t intimidate us. We don’t want unnecessary conflict. We are going into the fields to get the diamonds.”
Hot Springs, a township that services the mining community, has suddenly become a hive of activity.
Other villagers alleged panners were being assisted into the diamond mines by employees, who were now uncertain of their future.
However, some expressed anxiety over the move by government, saying it would affect them in a negative way.
Save Odzi Community Development Trust chairperson Maruva Jena said they feared lawlessness would take centre stage, with the coming-in of illegal panners.
“Mining companies are better than illegal panners. They [panners] are very violent and they don’t respect the community. They impregnate our children. Mine workers stay at work and will do anything to protect their jobs,” she said.
“We had several projects lined up for development basing on mining companies and their employees. We did poultry, gardening and others. Who will buy from us now? Harassment of people will happen again yet we thought we had overcome it.”
Marange Development Trust chairperson, Malvern Mudiwa said he was, however, hopeful the situation would not get out of hand like during the period of Operation Hakudzokwi around 2008, where hundreds of illegal miners were allegedly killed by the security forces.