Zimbabwe bans all diamond exports
By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE, (Reuters) – Zimbabwe has banned all diamond exports, including from a Rio Tinto unit, until gemstones from its controversial Marange fields are certified by the Kimberley Process, the mines minister said on Thursday. Obert Mpofu accused Western countries of using the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which regulates the global diamond trade, to ban Zimbabwe from benefitting from the diamonds.
‘It is true that the government has, with immediate effect, suspended all diamond exports,’ Mpofu told Reuters. He said the ban affected Rio Tinto’s Murowa mine, which produced 124,000 carats last year, and privately-owned River Ranch, who are all certified by the Kimberly Process.
Zimbabwe has been waiting for the certification of its Marange diamonds and a monitor from the world industry regulating body is in the country to investigate whether the country has complied with Kimberley Process recommendations.
Rights groups, which accuse Zimbabwe’s security forces of widespread atrocities in a bid to stop thousands of illegal miners in the poorly secured fields in the eastern part of the country, have been pushing for a ban on the diamonds. ‘As government, we are saying if the ban is targeted at Zimbabwe, it should apply to all diamond producers and not done on a selective basis,’ Mpofu said.
Murowa officials were not immediately available for comment. Mpofu said the West, which has been critical of President Robert Mugabe’s continued rule and has withheld funding for Zimbabwe’s unity government over political reforms, was lobbying hard for the continued ban of Marange diamonds.
The government ban could be meant to pressure the Kimberley Process to allow the Marange diamonds to be exported. ‘We are very clear that this issue is highly politicised and there are known Western countries behind this ban,’ Mpofu said.
Two little known South African companies, Grandwell Holdings and Core Mining, are mining diamonds in a 50:50 joint venture with the government in Marange and authorities say they have since the start of the year stockpiled more than 2 million carats awaiting Kimberley Process certification for export.
The Kimberley Process monitor, Abbey Chikane, a South African concludes his visit on Friday and may announce whether the country can start diamond exports from Marange. Mpofu said whatever Chikane’s decision, Zimbabwe would take a decision that would ‘ensure we will sell our diamonds, with or without the Kimberly Process.’
A leading Israeli diamond official told Reuters last week that monitoring Zimbabwe diamond sales will be the focus of a meeting of the Kimberley Process in Tel Aviv next month.