Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Hungering amidst abundance in Marange

By Henry Matewu

For many villagers in Marange, a village 90 kilometers South-west of Mutare in Zimbabwe, poverty seems to rule the roost despite the much talked-about Zimunya-Marange Community Share Ownership Trust, as ordinary people in this part of the country are apparently not benefitting from the empowerment scheme.

Illegal diamond panning
Illegal diamond panning in Marange

But the people of Marange are not alone. Of the 61 registered Community Share Ownership Trusts in Zimbabwe to date, only 16 are operational, according to the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (NIEEB).

Through Community Share Ownership Trusts in Zimbabwe, government aims to ensure that ordinary people benefit from resources extracted from their communities by funding local economic empowerment programmes.

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Funding of community trusts is in line with Statutory Instrument 114 of 2011, which compels mining firms to dispose of shares to several designated interests, among them community trusts, which are expected to receive 10 percent shareholding in the mines.

But this has not been the case with the diamond-rich Marange.

According to information obtained from the Platform for Youth Development, a democracy lobby group based in Chipinge, a town 184 kilometers South-East of Mutare, evidence of villagers hit with poverty in Marange is rife.

PYD says owing to lack of funds the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust has not saved a cent to rescue villagers from poverty.

In its on-going research titled Poverty amid Plenty, PYD says 69 percent of the total population in Marange is living in abject poverty.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency in 2012, Marange has a total population of 86400 people.

The findings by PYD show that poverty in Marange rose sharply to 69 percent from the 45 percent of the villagers that lived in poverty before 2007 when new diamond fields were eventually barricaded by the army.

“Initially, people in Marange found life better through diamond panning and they could sell the gems to buyers around 2006 prior to the deployment of the army to protect the gems from illegal miners,” PYD director, Claris Madhuku said.

But the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust last year received USD400 000 from Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources towards the government-initiated community share scheme.

George Magosvongwe, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment said the money did not directly address the plight of the poor villagers.

“The $200,000 each paid by Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources was just to open a bank account, and of this amount, the six-member leadership of the Zimunya-Marange CSOT has so far drawn  in excess of $45,000, out of which approximately $31,000 was spent on transport, allowances and board fees,” said Magosvongwe.

Magosvongwe also said the five miners in Marange had pledged $50m towards the Zimunya-Marange trust, but not a cent had been realized since then.

To this, current Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister, Francis Nhema said: “A government-commissioned audit of the CSOTs nationwide here this year revealed that some of the CSOTs funds were rampantly abused.”

The Marange-Zimunya CSOT may be one such case in spite of a 1, 5 million dollar cheque former indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere last year handed to President Robert Mugabe at the launch of the scheme, a donation that never was, according to the Marange traditional leadership.

Marange-Zimunya CSOT co-chairperson, Chief Gilbert Marange, said: “There is nothing to show to the world that the richest mineral is extracted here yet the stones must benefit us and this is despite a mock $1.5 million cheque given to President Mugabe at the launch of the Trust whose money has not come, meaning these companies lied to the President.”

However, this year’s petition to the Zimbabwean government signed by 300 villagers from Marange calling for the immediate release of the Trust Funds, accused government officials of engaging diamond miners in underhand dealings at the expense of  the impoverished villagers.

Read part of the petition: “Marange villagers note with concern that then Minister of Indigenisation, Saviour Kasukuwere received huge bribes in money from mining companies, which was his veiled reason for hastening to invite President Mugabe to launch the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust, covering his footprints in the scam.”

But Kasukuwere who is now Tourism Minister in this Southern African country, scoffed at the allegations.

“The trust you are talking about was not set by one man alone, but the Mines and Mining Development and the Local Government ministries were involved and for one to say they did not hear or they didn’t know about it is mischievous,” Kasukuwere said.

Still though, intricacies rocking the trust fund seem unrelenting, with other diamond firms in Marange apparently feigning ignorance about the existence of the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust, claiming it was established without wider consultation.

There are five diamond miners in Chiadzwa, which are Anjin Investments, Gye Nyame, Kusena, Marange Resources and Mbada Diamonds.

But Zimbabwe’s Mines Minister, Walter Chidhakwa has been on record in the media saying lack of transparency at the mining companies was undermining national development.

And evading meeting their obligations in communities they operate from, Mutuso Dliwayo, director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, accused mining firms of exploiting legal loopholes, ducking donating to local communities.

“It is not mandatory that mining firms have to deposit funds to community share trusts since they have entities that they (mining firms) have to dispose of shares to, which means they may choose to donate to other designated entities, which is why mining companies are taking advantage of the loopholes,” said Dliwayo.

But as panacea to the riling poverty amid plenty in Marange, Mines and Mining Development Minister Chidhakwa said: “Mining firms in Marange have to be merged in order to streamline their operations and ensure accountability of proceeds, which will help ordinary villagers also benefit from the gems.”