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Controversy over Zimbabwe diamonds explained

Human rights activist Farai Maguwu has put his life on the line researching and documenting some of the horrific abuses taking place in the Marange diamond fields. Maguwu is the guest on Question Time and answers questions from SW Radio Africa listeners on the controversy surrounding Zimbabwe’s diamond fields.

Interview broadcast 13 June 2012

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe and thank you for joining me on Question Time. Human rights activist Farai Maguwu has put his life on the line researching and documenting some of the horrific abuses taking place in the Marange diamond fields.

Farai Maguwu on Question Time
Farai Maguwu on Question Time

We are happy to announce that Mr Maguwu is the guest on Question Time and we’ll be taking questions from SW Radio Africa listeners on the controversy surrounding Zimbabwe’s diamond fields. Mr Maguwu, thank you so much for joining us.

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Farai Maguwu: Thank you Lance, it’s a pleasure.

Guma: Okay let’s start off with the Kimberley Process intercessional meeting that was held in Washington in the United States. A lot of discussion there with people urging the diamond monitor to tackle continuing human rights violations in Zimbabwe’s Marange fields. Just give us an update how that meeting went and what were some of the resolutions.

Maguwu: The meeting touched on a number of issues; one of them was of course was the Marange issue, where three reports were presented. One from the Zimbabwean KP civil society representative, another one from the government of Zimbabwe and another report from the KP monitoring team of Mr Abby Chikane and Mark Van Bockstael.

And in our report we noted that violence in Marange has significantly gone down, though we did not say it has ended. We still have isolated sporadic incidences of human rights violations and we still want government to deal with the problem and also to ensure that the army is completely removed from Marange.

And then apart from Zimbabwe there was also the most dominant issue that was of the Kimberley Process reform where participants were laying down their positions with regard to the reform of the Kimberley Process which is under review at the moment.

So I can’t say there were resolutions because this was kind of an agenda-setting conference in preparation for the November plenary which is mandated to come up with the administrative decisions.

Guma: Okay, we have several accusations directed at you here, the state media for example is running the line that your Centre for Research and Development is aligned to the West and is fighting a proxy war to have Zimbabwe’s diamonds blacklisted. What is your response?

Maguwu: I can’t really substantiate these allegations sometimes by responding to them because sometimes they are quite ridiculous. For instance if I am saying government should not brutalise its own people even if these people have been caught on the wrong side of the law, we have the due process of the law in Zimbabwe, where criminals are arrested, tried and sentenced.

And we are saying setting dogs on these people, beating them up and killing them, it is a very primitive way of dealing with offenders and it is not really helping in terms of marketing our diamonds because when consumers read that a single miner, artisanal miner was beaten by a dog or killed or whatever happened to him, already we have tarnished the image of our diamonds.

And I don’t see this as anything to do with working with the west. Otherwise what we are simply calling for is for Government to ensure that diamonds are mined in a peaceful environment and that will actually add value to our diamonds in that the international community, the consumers, the jewelers themselves will buy our diamonds with a clean conscience.

Guma: Kevin in Gweru wants to ask you about the redefining of conflict diamonds, saying why is this made or is this being made with Zimbabwe in mind? That’s his question.

Maguwu: Okay, to Kevin I say the issue of the review of the Kimberley Process is found right in the KP core document which was written in 2003. Section Six, Paragraph 20 of the KP core document states that participants intend that the certification scheme should be subject to periodic review to allow participants to conduct a thorough analysis of all elements contained in the scheme.

And then in 2006 the first review of the KPCS was conducted and then this was followed up by the Kinshasa Plenary of 2011 where an ad hoc committee was set up to work on the review of the Kimberley Process. And the issue of widening the definition of the term conflict diamonds, I think it’s in line with ensuring that the Kimberley Process maintains its relevance.

When the KP was formed in 2003, the biggest problem associated with diamonds was the fact of rebel groups which were trying to unseat legitimate governments using revenue from diamonds. But we no longer have rebel groups but we still have problems associated with diamonds and that is human rights violations sometime committed by legitimate governments.

And this is affecting the diamond industry because when consumers hear of human rights violations in a diamond producing community, they become skeptical.

They feel that the diamond could be associated with internal conflict and they don’t want to express love to their loved ones through something that was sourced from a conflict zone or something that led to the death of someone or the killing, I mean the beating of another person.

This is why people are saying let’s try to revisit the definition of conflict diamonds so that any form of conflict associated with diamonds is dealt with in the same manner that we have dealt successfully with conflicts involving rebel groups.

Guma: I have another question from by Emmanuel sent via direct message on Twitter – he says “in November last year the KP lifted a ban on Zimbabwe’s diamonds and one of its founders, Global Witness withdrew from the initiative in protest.

“One gets the impression that even though this ban was lifted, there’s still a cloud surrounding Zimbabwe’s diamonds and a lot of people in the industry will continue to shun those diamonds.” Is that true?

Maguwu: Yes that is very true. Our behaviour as Zimbabwe in the Kimberley Process is not even helping matters because Zimbabwe was the most vocal country opposing the reform of the Kimberley Process, opposing the widening of the definition of the term conflict diamonds and now all this leaves a lot of people feeling that perhaps the allegations of continuation of human rights violations are true, that Zimbabwe’s diamonds are not yet clean.

Therefore there is still a lot of work that needs to be done at home. Apart from violence, when you get the Minister of Finance who holds the national purse saying he is not receiving the revenues and then you hear the reports that the military’s also involved in mining, it’s in partnership with Anjin these create the suspicions that possibly there are still some grey areas with regard to Marange diamonds.

I think this is the reason why organizations like Global Witness felt that it was premature to lift the ban on Zimbabwe’s diamonds and we all acknowledge that progress is being made in terms of meeting the KP minimum standards but the biggest problem at the moment is to ensure that all the diamond revenues goes to Treasury for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people.

Guma: Is the fact that diamond proceeds are not going to Treasury enough to warrant calling for a ban of the diamonds all together?

Maguwu: Oh yes, that is a very serious problem in that it has all the connotations of a conflict especially in Zimbabwe where you have got three political parties which are in a coalition government and if one arm of the coalition government is in control of the diamonds and the other arm of the coalition government is saying they don’t have a clue as to where the money is going, then that becomes a very dangerous situation where diamond revenues could be seeping into the internal political conflict of the country.

Guma: Some have suggested that the presence of targeted sanctions on certain members of the Mugabe regime have actually helped Zimbabwe make its case against a banning of its diamonds because it’s allowed them to play the victim. Do you agree with that?

Maguwu: Yah I strongly agree. I think right now the sanctions actually have become a blessing and not a curse to the few privileged political elites who now use sanctions as an excuse for not being transparent, for not being accountable, for engaging in opaque diamond deals because they are saying some of the banks that we deal with are on sanctions.

ZMDC and MMCZ which are responsible for, the ZMDC is responsible for the production of the diamonds, MMCZ is responsible for the marketing of the diamonds, are on EU and the US sanctions list and they are saying EU and US are the biggest markets of diamonds so how do you expect us to sell our diamonds even if the KP lifted the ban, when we remain on sanctions?

So it’s actually giving a very good excuse to those who are benefitting and also it’s a big disservice to Zimbabwe because the diamonds which are being smuggled are being undervalued. They are not sold at the competitive value because the system is not open like if we go for an auction.

I remember there was this incident where only one person came to buy more than 400, more than four million carats of diamonds on an auction. It was just an auction for one person and this is justified because they say we are on sanctions so we can’t trade on the biggest markets, we just have to find our own people who will come and buy our diamonds.

Guma: If you were asked to lay out a road map for resolving this whole crisis, it’s been rumbling on for quite some time – what are the yardsticks that need to be met in order to deal with this matter once and for all?

Maguwu:  I think already government is in the process of coming up with the Diamond Bill. We need a Diamond Bill that is very inclusive which brings information from all the parties in government and civil society and the business community and one that borrows from the best practices.

This Diamond Bill must address the issue of investor identification because if a house is wrongly built at its foundation, whatever you are going to build on top of that foundation will come to nothing.

Therefore if the manner in which the companies that are mining in Marange, the manner in which they were identified is not clean, is fraudulent, that Diamond Bill ought to address that and ensure that we have got an open bidding process where we identify the best players in the industry and we give them contracts.

And then we must address the issue of revenue flow – where does the money go after the auction? Does it go to ZMDC? Does it go to MMCZ or it goes to the Treasury? And so if we consult with all the governing parties in Zimbabwe and consult even beyond, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

We can also learn from countries like Botswana, like South Africa, like Namibia where diamonds have contributed to enormous economic growth, I think we can get there, but as long as we have other elements of government signaling that they don’t know what is happening with our diamonds, our diamonds remain, continue to have the conflict tag.

Guma: Would you be in favour of nationalization as a final solution as it were? Some have suggested it’s the best way around this.

Maguwu: Well I haven’t seen it happening elsewhere but the challenge that I have with nationalization is that we are giving government the sole responsibility to mine and to market the diamonds and unfortunately our history of enterprises that have been owned by government, is so, it makes sad reading.

We are talking about the NRZ, we are talking about Air Zimbabwe, we are talking about the Grain Marketing Board, we are talking about ZUPCO, the University of Zimbabwe, I mean the cemetery of these companies which have died in the hands of government is ever-growing.

So I don’t think government has got the capacity to do it alone and after all we are a capitalist society where the role of government should be to create an environment where investors can come in and do business. So what I rather suggest is a 50%-50% joint venture between government and the investors like what we see in Botswana.

We’ve got Debswana which is the Botswana government and De Beers and I think that has done wonders for Botswana so I think a joint venture is far much better because the investor wants to protect their interests and the government want to be seen to be doing something by the population. So either way we have got both parties trying to promote their personal interests which will lead into greater transparency and accountability.

Guma: Final question for you Mr Maguwu – some say the hidden problem – the people displaced by the mining in Marange. What’s their fate like right now? We were talking about compensation in years gone by, what has been done and how would you describe their welfare right now?

Maguwu: I think there are some developments, some positive developments at the moment like those people whose businesses were disrupted, I think they’ve been compensated; if not all of them, some have been given as much as 60 thousand, 70 thousand to compensate them for relocation and loss of business.

And I understand the second phase now is to compensate the families and the some may have been compensated by now. However the challenges still remain, for instance if you go to ARDA Transau at the last time that we visited, they had not yet received land for cultivation and these are subsistence farmers, they survive on tilling the land and the land they were given for living , I think it is too small.

It’s smaller than a football pitch and it’s not enough for people to grow crops to feed themselves so I think that’s one of the outstanding issues. Then the other one is they need livelihoods, they need to get into income generating projects and I think the companies need to look into that so that these people can start their life somewhere.

And they need to pay school fees, I remember going there, I met a lot of children who were not going to school, I talked to the parents and they said we can’t raise the $50 that we need for school fees. So there’s need to give these people a source of livelihood whereby they can also earn some income.

Guma: Are they not being offered jobs by these companies?

Maguwu: Some of the companies, like the biggest construction company there, it’s Anjin and you know Anjin is very notorious for giving very poor wages to its employees so I don’t think they are getting much and after all these jobs are very short term jobs, they are not long term jobs. We are looking into the future, after the construction of the homes, what’s next, where do they go, how do they make a living in that particular area?

Guma: Well Zimbabwe, that’s human rights activist Farai Maguwu. Like I said in the introduction he has put his life on the line researching and documenting some of the horrific abuses taking place in the Marange diamond fields. Mr Maguwu thank you so much for joining us on Question Time.

FM: Thank you Lance, I really appreciate it.

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