MUTARE – Twenty one foreign nationals and prominent local rights activist Farai Maguwu were yesterday spared jail by a Mutare magistrate who fined them for trespassing following their arrest on Friday for holding commemorations of illegal miners killed a decade ago during the country’s diamond rush in Manicaland.
Police, in a combined operation with Immigration and intelligence services — swooped on the 21 nationals who included British and South Africa citizens — for having gathered in Marange in remembrance of the lives lost during what was dubbed “Operation Hakudzokwi” launched to deal with illegal diamond miners a decade ago.
Magistrate Lazarus Murendo yesterday convicted Maguwu and his entourage and fined them $100 each with the exception of two Zimbabwean drivers who were just cautioned.
They were all convicted on their own plea.
Prosecutor Brighton Shamhuyarira narrated to the court how on Friday, Bocha Diamond Community Trust (BDCT) held a meeting at Mupanga Village, Mukwada under Chief Marange in Chiadzwa diamond fields.
Lovemore Mukwada, the organisation’s director convened the meeting to gather the community’s opinion on the impact of mining and to generate a petition demanding use of diamond revenue for developing the region.
On the same day, the court was told, Maguwu was approached by the police to produce a pass card or permit since he was in Chiadzwa diamond fields, an area protected by law and which barred unauthorised visitors.
Maguwu failed to produce a pass and this led to the verification of documents for the foreign nationals and two Zimbabwean drivers.
The State argued that they had no lawful right to enter a protected area without a pass card or permit.
Muguwu, 44, was convicted with British national Rhiain Moses, 23, South African nationals — Thabo Mukosi Maena Raliwedzha, Busisiwe Miliscent Bohale, 32, Chance Mashudu, 49, Pinky Langa, 28, Mbokwane Mduduzi Hubert, 45, Peace Matthew Hlabane,47, Swaziland nationals — Nokuthula Thuli Msibi,34, Cabangile Monica Dlamii, 52, Tsele Bongani, 45, Ugandan Bosco John Okwong Ocyer, 48, Kenyan Kithel Gladys Mongane, 30, Brazilians — Julia Maria Andrade Gomes, 36, Jarbas Dasilcva Viera, 29, Rodrigo Peret Amedee Decastro, 62, Zambians — Bernadette Malamba, 66, Docus Kapwaya, 67, Susan Chilala, 43, and Musonda Roida Tembo, 60, as well as two Zimbabwean drivers Kudakwashe Machawira, 26 and Elijah Chimusora, 23.
Meanwhile, the British national faces deportation after she had overstayed by two months.
Operation Hakudzokwi was a government crackdown on illegal diamond mining activities in the controversial Marange diamond fields that was feared to have claimed many lives, although the State denies it.
Maguwu’s Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) organised Friday’s ceremony in conjunction with BDCT to remember victims of the crackdown, while also drawing the world’s attention to the plight of the affected families.
It was during the course of the commemorations that police descended on the gathering accompanied by operatives from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and officials from the department of Immigration.
The foreign nationals were arrested after a long standoff between the Marange community and the event organisers.
Their arrest nearly triggered unrest as the locals felt they were being muzzled from raising their grievances against the State, and security details deployed by the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC).
The Marange community has also been alleging that the discovery of the gems in their locality has not benefited them.
At the emotive meeting, villagers broke down while recounting ongoing horrors at the hands of security details.
They alleged that artisanal miners were being executed and buried in shallow pits.
Recently, the decomposing body of Tafadzwa Mavhiza was recovered from the Matsanga area, where Marange Resources used to own a concession, amid claims he was fatally shot by ZCDC guards on October 20.