By Andrew Mambondiyani
Diamonds certainly are not a girl’s best friend for the Marange villagers who once picked the gems from the flood plains of the Save and Odzi rivers in eastern Zimbabwe.
Symbols of romance and luxury, diamonds have turned the lives of the Marange into misery. Displaced from their homes in the past five years when the government partnered with mining companies to exploit the natural resource, 1 000 families from the Marange area face a string of broken promises to rebuild their livelihoods.
They are sinking ever deeper into poverty while the government exploits what has turned out to be one of the largest diamond fields in the world.
And fears abound among the relocated villagers that promises made by the diamond companies would not be fulfilled amid reports of impending mergers of the diamond companies operating in Marange.
The Minister of Mines and Mining Development Walter Chidhakwa has since announced that Marange Resources, Kusena Diamonds and Gye Nyame would merge into one entity by early this year.
While diamond companies and the government have blamed each other for reneging on a series of pledges to the relocated villagers including clean piped drinking water to the new community, build schools, health clinics and provide income generating projects, the announcement of the merger of financially strapped mining companies has further diminished the villagers’ hopes that diamond wealth will benefit the over 4 000 people whose lives it destroyed.
Families are going hungry. They lack clean water and access to healthcare. Jobs are scarce, and the women are bearing much of the burden.
“We are surviving on illegally selling firewood. We have to carry heavy loads of firewood on our heads to the nearest market at Odzi Business Centre about 10 kilometres away. I have no choice but this. It is the only way I can feed my family,” said Jessica Mwashita, a mother of six.
Mavis Maramba said the diamond companies had promised each family irrigated land, as well as poultry and pig projects. But nothing has materialised other than occasional food packages.
“We don’t want to be beggars, we want to be self-reliant. We need income-generating projects not food handouts,” Maramba said.
From afar their new settlement at Arda Transau located near the city of Mutare about 50 kilometers north of their former homes in Marange diamond deposits, looks like an affluent neighborhood of newly constructed homes.
But the villagers say they have no means of sustaining themselves. The dry sand soils at Arda Transau are unsuitable for agriculture. The relocated villagers can no longer trade in woven mats and baskets from the baobab trees which grew in abundance in Marange. Families complain of going days without food.
In a culture of polygamous marriages, women and children constitute the majority of the population in the new community. The long distances they must travel to clinics hits mothers, children and the elderly particularly hard.
Women also have taken on the role of primary breadwinners as the relocation has left the men feeling disempowered. Their livestock has gone. Men had panned for diamonds but it is too dangerous today. Illegal miners are attacked by vicious dogs and shot by police, according to reports by Human Rights Watch. Jobs at the official mines are menial.
In early 2009 the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation through its wholly owned Marange Resources began exploiting the 80 000 hectares of diamond fields, which geologists estimate hold between two and seven billion carats of raw diamonds.
The government also has 50/50 joint ventures with two Chinese companies Anjin Mining Investments and Jinan Mining, and with Zimbabwe firms Mbada Diamonds (Pvt) Ltd and Diamond Mining Corporation. The Marange fields are touted to contribute about 25 percent of global diamond output by end of this year.
The provincial administrator Fungai Mbetsa has always acknowledged the villagers’ hardship. But he blamed the diamond companies for failing to live up to the Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) they had signed with the government, requiring them to provide each family with a three-bedroom house with electricity, an outdoor pit toilet, half a hectare of land under irrigation, clean, piped drinking water and quarterly food provisions, plus construct a clinic, a school and tarred roads.
The chairman of the Arda Transau Relocation Development Trust, Cephas Gwayagwaya, confirmed these terms.
Anjin Deputy Director Gertrude Takawira was quoted in the press as saying the government was not being truthful and insisted that her company had fulfilled its requirements. “The Arda (Transau) resettlement area was handed over to the government and it is no longer under our jurisdiction,” Takawira.
Diamond Mining Company (DMC) board chairman, Ezekiel Zabanyaya also told the local press that the company had done the greater part of its role in terms of issuing food handouts and other obligations related to the relocation exercise. And a senior official with Marange Resources insisted that they were done with the relocation exercise and were giving food handouts to the affected villagers.
Another factor is at play. Financial problems at the mining companies and political uncertainty are affecting the companies’ ability to fulfill their promises, said a senior government official. The alluvial diamonds on the surface are fast running out and the mining companies had not invested in the heavy machinery required to dig deeper for the mineral.
“Besides viability problems, some diamond companies are reluctant to meet their obligations following the announcement by the government that all the mining companies in Marange would soon merge into two mining entities,” the official, who requested not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, told this reporter.
Yet promises have kept coming. Mbada Diamond’s chief executive officer Tomas Luciyano said his company was ready to spearhead development to enable people in the province to enjoy the fruits of lucrative diamonds.
The diamond mining firms which pledged $50 million towards the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Scheme have not yet fulfilled their pledges forcing the newly appointed Minister of State for Manicaland Mandi Chimene vowing to take the companies head-on. Chimene met the senior officials from diamond companies in Mutare early this month.
“Money from diamonds is being taken elsewhere, leaving the province to languish in poverty. What is surprising is that the companies are continuously mining the diamonds at Chiadzwa (Marange) yet we are the poorest province,” Chimene said.
Only $400 000 have been deposited into the share ownership scheme bank account by Mbada Diamonds and Marange Resources since it was launched by President Robert Mugabe two years ago.
And the villagers are villagers are still waiting.