Zimbabwe Diamond Ban Looms, Government Scrambles
Small-scale Diamond miners are seen here at the Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe at the height of diamond fever. Zimbabwe's diamonds face an international ban from the Kimberley Certification Process in Swakopmund, Namibia. The Minister of Mines made a presentation yesterday in the coastal town and did not address the main concern: the presence of the army at the diamond fields. There is no doubt that government is panicking.
Harare, Zimbabwe, 04 November 2009
Obert Mpofu, Zimbabwe's Minister of Mines and a Vice-presidential aspirant, is in Namibia where he is fighting against the tide, in a battle to block a proposed ban on the trade in Zimbabwe's diamonds.
Mpofu, with a straight face, says that the government of Zimbabwe has done all that it can to comply with the recommendations of the Kimberley Certification Process Team that visited Zimbabwe earlier in the year.
Talk about eating humble pie!
The team recommended that soldiers be removed from the Marange Diamond Fields, where it is alleged that they are using villagers there as slave labour. There are also allegations that people are being killed for not producing enough diamonds for the army, that the corpses are buried in anthills and then the bones are removed a little while later and taken away in order that there be no evidence of killings later on.
At first, the Zimbabwe government said that it would comply and remove the soldiers from the diamond fields. Soon after the team left, however, an army spokesperson was on television breathing fire and brimstone. The Certification Process Team could go and jump into the nearest lake, he said. The army, he insisted, would not move off the diamond fields "until the area had been secured."
This, more than anything else, is what led the team to take a hardline stance and recommend that Zimbabwe's diamonds be banned.
Curiously, Mpofu said nothing about the role of the army at the diamond fields during his presentation in Swakopmund, a picturesque coastal town in Namibia set against the backdrop of the red sand dunes of the Namib Desert.
The amount of panic in government over the impending ban has to be seen to be believed. Even I was approached by officials from our government to try and impress upon my party and my president, Dr Simba Makoni, the need to "speak out against a ban of our diamonds, because a ban would be disastrous and we would not be able to easily get ourselves unbanned if this happens."
I was told that we needed to issue a statement by yesterday! That has not happened, of course. I wonder why they think that we are here to take their chestnuts out of the fire for them.
Still, there is no doubt that a ban would have dire consequences and would simply entrench the presence of the armed forces at the diamond fields. It will ensure that diamond smuggling goes ahead unabated, lining the pockets of not only the army top brass, but also ZANU PF, which MDC-T ministers say is now sitting on diamonds worth US$300 million, stored in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Even the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, is said to have established a diamond polishing business in China. Everyone is in on it. A ban would ensure that it becomes a true free-for-all.
That said, the government should really simply ensure that the army moves off from the diamond fields. Then they will have a leg to stand no in trynig to block a ban.
The diamond fields at Chiadzwa would make Zimbabwe the fourth largest diamond producer in the world. Managed by a caring and motivated government, used wisely, the fields would go a long way towards making Zimbabwe one of the richest countries in African and perhaps even the world.
My personal dream of making Zimbabwe a First World country within ten years would be easily realised if this resource, together with our gold, platinum and now uranium were all used wisely, anchored in sound policies and in the absence of corruption and greed.
None of the parties in government today have the capacity to ensure that this happens. At all.
Instead of addressing the main issue: the army presence at the diamond fields, the government has resorted to blackmail and bribery. They have managed to get through to Newman Chiadzwa, who called himself Chief Chiadzwa and has been before the courts here in Zimbabwe accused of illegal possession of diamonds.
He has now changed his tune, saying that villagers fed him wrong information, that there are no killings and atrocities at the diamond fields. Even more bizzare, even the community's objection to the rotten piece of land that the government wants to give then in order to clear the area where diamonds are now being mined has now disappeared, according to this Newman Chiadzwa.
This week, he wrote a grovelling letter to the Minister of Mines, in which he apologised "unreservedly" to "The Solution", the government and the people of Zimbabwe for saying all the things he has been saying all along. Now, like ZANU PF, he also blames the West and unnamed NGOs. whom he says are not interested in any positive stories about Chiadzwa because they have a hidden agenda.
Despite all this, it remains true that the surest way for government to ensure that Zimbabwe diamonds are not banned is to remove the army from the fields. That will go a long way towards disarming the troops lined up now against Zimbabwe's diamonds.