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Q&A: “Militarisation of Zimbabwe’s Diamond Fields Continues”

Miriam Mannak interviews Prof RICHARD SAUNDERS, author and academic

CAPE TOWN, May 25 2010 (IPS) - Almost a year after a review mission of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) found Zimbabwe guilty of “serious non-compliance” with the scheme’s minimum criteria on conflict diamonds, the militarisation of the southern African country’s diamond mining operations continues.

Richard Saunders: "It is unclear how many people were killed, but 214 deaths have been accounted for." Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

Richard Saunders: "It is unclear how many people were killed, but 214 deaths have been accounted for." Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

The KPCS is a global initiative of governments, civil society and industry aimed at stemming the trade in blood or conflict diamonds – stones sold by forces to finance wars and civil conflict.

In July 2009 a KPCS review mission recommended Zimbabwe’s temporary suspension from the global diamond trade after finding human rights violations at the Chiadzwa diamond fields in Marange in eastern Zimbabwe.

South Africa was one of the KPCS signatories that objected to the mission’s recommendation. As a consensus is required in matters like these, Zimbabwe escaped suspension and was given six months to get its house in order.

Meanwhile, African Consolidated Resources, a company that claims ownership of the diamonds fields, earlier this month (May) again went to court, this time to halt the sale of Marange diamonds. It had previously made an offer in terms of which diamonds could be sold subject to KCPS certification, among others.

Richard Saunders, Professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, and author of “Never the Same Again: Zimbabwe’s Growth towards Democracy 1980-2000”, recently spoke at an open dialogue of the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust in Cape Town, South Africa, on Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds. The trust fosters critical thinking on social issues.

The following is an edited version of IPS’s interview with him.

Q: Can you give the background to the issue? A: Previously owned by De Beers, the Marange diamond fields were bought by African Consolidated Resources (ACR) in 2006. Soon after ACR started test mining, the ZANU-PF government disputed ACR’s legal claim while inviting Zimbabweans to come and dig for diamonds in Maranga.

Government stipulated that informal miners should sell their stones to the state’s minerals marketing company. In a matter of weeks over 20,000 people from across Zimbabwe flocked to Marange. ACR was effectively pushed off its claim.

Q: When did the human rights abuses at Marange start? A: It started with the illegal diamond trade, which was when the state proved not to have sufficient funds to purchase Marange diamonds (from informal diggers). It was short of foreign exchange due to the meltdown of the Zimbabwean economy.

At the time, illegal buyers and shadowy networks flocked to the region. As the diamond miners were not able to sell the stones to the government, they started to sell them illegally and across the border.

Reports suggest diamonds were being sold at the side of the road. We also know of parcels of Marange diamonds that made it to the United Arab Emirates.

The ZANU-PF government struck back to fight the illegal diamond trade and maintain control over the fields. The military and police moved into a dominant position.

Waves of violence ensued, each an attempt to assert the authority of security agencies in the burgeoning legal and illegal trade. The presidential elections of June 2008 brought more violence and severe human rights abuses. People were murdered, tortured, gang raped, assaulted, beaten and chased off the land.

After the elections and signing of the global political agreement in Sept 2008 between ZANU-PF and both MDC parties, the area was subjected to the most violent operation.

Reports from human rights organisations indicate that from the end of Oct to mid Nov 2008 miners and others were shot from helicopters and hunted down in the bush. Dogs were let on people and women were raped.

It is unclear how many people were killed, but 214 deaths have been accounted for. The total number could be much higher. People could have died in the bush while hiding. No one yet knows the extent of the losses and injuries and access to the region is difficult.

Q: Now that ARC and the people are gone, who are the diggers? A: Last year two private South African companies, the New Reclamation Group and Core Mining and Minerals, were appointed by mining minister Obert Mpofu to form joint ventures with the government-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) to dig in Marange.

The two joint ventures are called Canadile Mining and Mbada Investments. Robert Mhlanga, a former Zimbabwean air force officer with strong military connections, chairs Mbada.

The “regularisation” of mining operations via Mbada and Canadile has deflected some of the criticisms raised by the KPCS review mission around the direct “militarisation” of the diamond fields.

The mission team’s damning report had called for the thorough demilitarisation of Marange and the establishment of transparent mining operations.

It also identified the need to bring the handling and export of raw diamonds into line with established KPCS criteria and recommended the investigation of human rights abuses in the diamond fields.

But the diamond fields are yet to be demilitarised, even if it may seem to be on paper. There continues to be irregular involvement of state security forces.

Q: Why did South Africa and others object to the recommendation of suspension? A: The reasons are complex but one of the motives could be financial. Various members of South Africa’s ruling ANC are involved in mining companies in Zimbabwe. But I wish to stress that I do not suggest that these individuals are involved in mining blood diamonds.

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