via Bulawayo24 NEWS | The curse of Marange diamonds …as relocated villagers wallow in poverty by Andrew Mambondiyani 04 November 2013
There is a time when a rich resource can become a curse, either to the whole country or a specific community.
This can be said of diamonds in Africa, a continent infamous for its bloody and violent civil wars. The wars fuelled by diamonds have brought about the iniquitous child soldiers in some African countries. These wars have resulted in years of trauma for blameless citizens as the case with countries like Sierra Leone where efforts are underway to rehabilitate communities traumatized by years of civil strife fuelled by diamonds. And one of the protagonists in the Sierra Leone conflict, former Liberian president Charles Taylor is now serving a 50 year jail term in a British prison for the war crimes. In 2000, the UN accused Taylor then Liberian president of supporting the Revolutionary United Front rebellion in neighbouring Sierra Leone with weapons and training in exchange for diamonds.
The wars associated with the diamond industry have given birth to the so called blood diamonds and these wicked diamonds have been popularised by the 2006 Edward Zwick hit film of same title. Though Zimbabwean diamonds do not fit in the so called blood diamonds category, the Marange diamonds east of Zimbabwe have gained unsavoury reputation for various controversies- ranging from water and air pollution by mining companies to human rights abuses by Zimbabwean security agencies working in the diamond fields.
The brutal eviction of hard-up illegal miners by President Robert Mugabe’s government got a fair share of international condemning in 2008. Though various figured have been bandied about, human rights watch dogs agreed that upto 200 illegal miners were brutally killed in Marange during the wicked operation, which the government dubbed Operation Hakudzokwi. The insalubrious operation received widespread international condemnation. And as controversies continue to dog the Marange diamonds, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF has been accused of using proceeds from the diamonds to oil the election campaign machinery which resulted in the July 31 2013 election victory. The diamond money was allegedly unleashed to thwart the will of the people and resulted in President Mugabe’s decade long nemesis, Movement for Democratic Change leader (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai contesting the election results in court.
And more controversy continue to plague the Marange diamonds-even when formal mining has started- amid reports that poor villagers relocated as result of operations by the mining companies have been dumped at Arda Transau, a desolate government farm about 40 kilometres from the eastern border city of Mutare, without proper amenities like schools, clinics, clean water and electricity among others.
And the unfortunate villagers continue to sink deeper into the abyss of stinking poverty. The companies which had promised to give the villagers a quarterly supply of food until they have come with income generating projects have reneged on their earlier promises. And some villagers particularly relocated by a Chinese company, last received their food supplies last year. The villagers have been reduced to worse than destitute, and today they blame their woes on the discovery of diamonds in their area, as the mining operations have uprooted them from their ancestral lands. To them the diamonds have but become a curse as malnutrition and hunger are now part of many of the relocated villagers’ lives. Today they curse the day when diamonds were discovered in their backyard as proceeds from the diamonds line the already fat pockets of company executives with strong links to President Mugabe and the Zanu PF party.
As one of the relocated villager, Cephas Gwayagwaya says of the new place: “The soils around here in Arda Transau are like pit sand and not good for agriculture”. But according a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the diamond mining firms and government, each company was supposed to build a primary and secondary school, clinic, provide clean water for the relocated families while supporting income generating projects for their livelihood. Anjin has managed to construct a primary and secondary school as well as a clinic while Mbada Diamonds is currently refurbishing a school. Anjin argued that it has fully implemented the MoU signed with the government. Arda Transau is now made up of villagers relocated by Anjin Investments, Marange Resources, Mbada Diamonds and Diamond Mining Company (DMC).
Anjin has relocated 474 families while Mbada has moved 400 households to Arda Transau, Marange has relocated 121 families while DMC has not yet relocated any villagers. About 4 300 families are still to be relocated.
And the administrator for Manicaland province where Marange diamond deposits sit, Fungai Mbetsa told journalists that part of the agreement with the companies was to construct an irrigation scheme for villagers with water drawn from the mighty Osborne Dam. But the companies broke the promise resulting in the poor villagers depending entirely on the companies for food handouts. “The companies had agreed to construct an irrigation scheme but nothing has been done. We are not happy as a province,” Mbetsa said.
Mbada Diamonds officials told journalist during a tour of ARDA Transau that several income generating projects were being implemented for the benefit of relocated villagers.