A BBC Panorama documentary broadcast Monday evening firmly put the spotlight on abuses in the Marange diamond fields. According to the 30 minute report Zimbabwe’s military and police are running secret torture camps in the diamond mining areas.
Eyewitnesses interviewed told of being beaten, raped and savaged by dogs in the diamond fields. Some of the prisoners were miners who had demanded too much pay or had mined independently and were kept at the so-called “Diamond Base” or Zengeni (the main holding camp).
The BBC Panorama report came as the European Union looked at ways of allowing some of the diamonds mined in Marange onto the world market under the Kimberley Process, a scheme that certifies that revenues from diamond sales will not fund conflicts.
Meanwhile the main camp in Marange, known locally as Diamond Base, is a tented military-like enclosure with razor wire, where the workers are held, the report said.
“Even if someone dies there, the soldiers do not disclose, because they do not want it known,” an officer in Zimbabwe’s military told the BBC on condition of anonymity.
Exiled Zimbabwean journalist Innocent Chofamba Sithole however had this to say about the BBC programme, even before it was broadcast.
“When the KP okayed Zim diamond sales, a US organisation contrived some reason to oppose this and promptly ordered its members to steer clear of them. Now the EU is about to accept Zim diamonds, and the Brits have ordered the BBC out to do a hit on Zim diamonds. I’ll say it again, this isn’t about human rights at all! Watch Panorama tonight.”
Diamonds were discovered in Marange in 2006, drawing in tens of thousands of small-time miners hoping to get rich quick. Once the extent of the find became clear, the army cleared the area in late 2008, when Human Rights Watch says more than 200 people were killed, some by helicopter gunships.