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Open conflict over diamonds

THE fight for control of the controversial diamond fields in the eastern part of the country could soon explode into a major open conflict involving powerful politicians and influential corporate magnates as the battle to take charge of the precious gemstones intensify.

This revelation by informed official sources comes as government is taking steps to stop the inquisitive parliamentary portfolio committee on Mines and Energy chaired by former Mines minister Edward Chindori-Chininga from proceeding with its oversight duties.

Sources said government on Tuesday indicated at a meeting attended by President Robert Mugabe, the two vice-presidents, the prime minister and his two deputies and ministers that the parliamentary committee must be stopped in its tracks because the probe was creating problems and could open a can of worms.

“The parliamentary committee’s oversight work on the Marange diamond claims, mining and sales issues is likely to come to a close very soon because top government officials are not happy with its investigations,” a source said. “This might soon cause an explosive confrontation between politicians and mining tycoons involved in the battle for control of the Chiadzwa diamond fields.”

Government, which has an entrenched interest in the issue, is said to be concerned about the rising tensions over diamonds after recent parliamentary committee hearings, seizures of diamonds and alleged office break-ins — moves which indicate stakes were high in the matter.

The fight for the Marange diamonds has escalated after a recent botched attempt by Mbada Diamond Mining Company to sell 300 000 carats of diamonds through  auction. There is also a battle over the recent seizure by police of African Consolidated Resources (ACR)’s 129 400 carats of diamonds from the Reserve Bank offices. Millions of carats of diamonds have been extracted unlawfully at Chiadzwa since the diamond rush began in 2006.

Government reacted to the proliferation of illegal diamond exploitation in the area by sending in soldiers who were accused of brutality, including killings, in the diamond fields.

The parliamentary committee has been summoning people involved in diamond mining trying to unravel the complex issue of ownership of the diamond claims and how the companies currently on the ground got there in the first place.

Those who have appeared before the committee in connection with the recent failed attempt to auction diamonds include the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) officials and police officers.

The latest problem started when Mbada wanted to auction the controversial diamonds without the knowledge of the ZMDC, MMCZ, and the Police Minerals Unit.

During its hearings the parliamentary committee has raised concern over the “careless manner” in which government has handled the mining and marketing of the Chiadzwa diamonds.

ZMDC’s Marange Resources last year signed a deal with the New Reclamation group’s subsidiary Grandwell leading to the formation of Mbada, a 50-50 partnership joint-venture. The company is chaired by retired Air Vice-Marshal Robert Mhlanga.

The fight over diamonds pits the government, which is working with Mbada against, ACR. It is said senior politicians are involved on both sides of the conflict.

While Mbada has Mhlanga who is well connected in political circles, ACR is said to be linked to an influential retired army commander who is well known to have vast business interests, including diamonds.

Accusations and counter-accusations have been flying between the companies fighting for control of the diamonds.

The London Stock Exchange-listed ACR has accused Mines minister Obert Mpofu of being linked to New Reclamation, the South African company involved in the Marange diamond mining operations. Canadile, a partnership between ZMDC and South Africa’s Core Mining, is also involved in Marange diamond mining.

Mbada and Canadile are said to be mining in a 2000-hectare claim legally held by ACR which has been fighting intense legal battles to regain control of its concessions and ownership of the gemstones.

The Supreme Court this week ruled that Mbada and Canadile should stop mining operations in Marange pending the finalisation of the ownership contest in court. The court also ruled that ACR diamonds seized from the Reserve Bank by the police should be returned to the central bank forthwith.

ACR chief executive Andrew Cranswick yesterday said government should enforce the ruling and drive out “foreign firms acting in contempt of court orders and stealing Zimbabwe’s strategic assets”.

Zimbabwe has survived expulsion from the Kimberley Process due to the fight over the Chiadzwa diamonds. A South African diamond inspector Abbey Chikane has been seconded to oversee the mining and sale of diamonds in the country which could degenerate into a conflict unless checked in time.

The army has been accused of engaging in forced labour, torturing and beating local villagers on the diamond fields of Marange district. The military was said to have seized control of these diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe after killing more than 200 people in Chiadzwa, a previously peaceful but impoverished part of Marange, in late October 2008. The government has denied this.

With extensive black market trading, Marange became a zone of lawlessness and impunity, a microcosm of the broader situation which engulfed the country before the inclusive government was formed in February 2009.

Diamonds were discovered in Marange in June 2006. By November 2006, however, a nationwide police operation was launched to clamp down on illegal mining across the country, including in Marange. Police assumed control of the diamond fields but, instead of halting illegal mining and trade, they worsened and exploited the lawlessness on the fields.

When police proved ineffective, the army launched Operation Hakudzokwi (No Return) in October which left a trail of destruction and murder before government withdrew the military and allowed mining companies to come in.

Dumisani Muleya

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