Corruption watch: Marange is crying out for peace

File pic: Diamonds

In 2014, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre ranked Zimbabwe’s gem output at ninth across the globe.

It had produced a whopping 4.7 million carats to earn that ranking and some US$84 million in royalties for the government.

A year after, the carats dropped by a whopping 1.6 million, and so did the royalties, which plummeted to a sad $23 million. Things got worse in 2016, and the government of the late Robert Mugabe then kicked a whole eight diamond mining companies from Marange.

The real reasons for that decision remain murky. But the dominant narrative is that the mining companies were bleeding the diamond fields dry. Some say Mugabe was, in fact, pulling a punch at the Chinese mines after falling out with Beijing and its local proxies within the ruling party.

They say that when he was pushed over, he was clutching onto a damning report that detailed how the diamonds were being used to fund a power transition campaign against him. That remains speculative, of course, albeit a sensible and believable rumour.

The diamonds have always been a curse for Zimbabwe, rather than a gain. You will remember that, in 2012, the nosy Global Witness alleged that a good part of the diamonds was being used to sponsor persecution against the ruling Zanu PF government’s critics.

Then thousands of people were being displaced from their ancestral land to make way for diamond mining. Those that remained encountered many problems. Their livestock was being confiscated for straying into the Marange fields, which had become highly militarised. Their pastures dwindled and so did their farmland. Whatever livestock remained got poisoned by the river water that had been corrupted by the mining.

What is clear in all this is that the diamonds were never meant for Zimbabwe. Even when Zimbabwe has such a faltering ranking in 2014, the people didn’t see any reason to celebrate. The diamonds were never meant for the people. The government might have received some millions in royalties, but, besides the figures being suspiciously low, there is no evidence that, that money trickled down to the people. Let alone the people of Marange.

There is nothing new in this, of course. But what’s painfully worrisome is the fact that the people of Marange continue to bear the brunt of the diamond curse.

You know now that after Mugabe kicked out the diamond miners, he replaced them with a shady merger called the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC). You know that, a few months after Mugabe was thrown out, the successor administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa brought back, through the back door, one of the mining companies, Anjin.

The Chamber of Mines says ZCDC was the biggest diamond producer last year. And, in its latest report, talks as if Anjin never produced a single carat in 2021. That’s strange of course, considering that Anjin, upon its mysterious return, grabbed the most lucrative portal from ZCDC and nobody raised as much as a finger about it.

Whatever the case, the point is, right now, ZCDC and Anjin are the major diamond players in Marange. Their existence comes with both current and historical burdens on their part. They are supposed to ensure that they promote the socio-economic well-being of the Marange community. They are supposed to give them jobs, clinics, schools and other livelihood opportunities.

But, just as in the past, nothing of that sort is happening. ZCDC—so government by vicarious responsibility—is being crude with the people of Marange. To start with, it promised the people a diamond claim that would be owned by the community. What’s happening on the ground is really funny.

The merger insists that it will operate the claim on behalf of the community, which will only receive profits. This is as awkward as it is confusing. There is no single person from the Marange community who has been second to the management of the so-called community claim. If ZCDC is going to run the claim, whose claim is it then? Is it not a ZCDC claim? Why must you run a claim without the involvement of the purported beneficiaries? When the money comes, how will it be accounted for?

Number two. The government has told the people of Marange another big lie. In collusion with both Anjin and ZCDC, it promised to build dams for the people so that they could start income-generating horticulture projects. The government and mining officials were so flowery on that promise that they told the people that big trucks would be coming from as far afield as Harare and Mutare to buy vegetables, and so on, from Marange.

But the only dams you will see in Marange are the gullies and dirt-road potholes.

You should have heard about this a couple of months ago about the restless Marange. Now, soldiers and cops are terrorising women vendors. They arrest them for all and no reasons. Among other things, the women claim that they are having to buy their freedom with their bodies. Parliament was jolted to look into this scandal, but it’s not clear how far it went with its efforts.

The soldiers and cops are now a menace to the community in other sense. They carry out regular raids in the nearby villages, purportedly hunting for illegal diamond miners. But, as they do that, innocent people are caught up in the operations, and they have nowhere to turn to.

One thing is certain. The people of Marange are praying that the Marange diamonds dry up so that, for once, they can have some rest.

Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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