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Villagers want end to diamond fields terror

By Andrew Kunambura

Marange villagers have petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa, pictured, and Parliament to help lift restrictions imposed on their movement in 2009 which they claim has exposed them to abuse by security forces and guards at the government-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC).

File picture of diamond panners rounded up by soldiers in the Marange area
File picture of diamond panners rounded up by soldiers in the Marange area

ZCDC did not comment on the petition although in the past, its boss Morris Mpofu, has strongly denied the villagers’ accusations while accepting there could have been “one or two” incidents which were ‘‘isolated’’.

Government in 2009 invoked the Protected Areas and Places Act to restrict movement of villagers and trespassers as part of security measures aimed at protecting companies that were mining the gems as well as warding off unscrupulous dealers.

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The petition was submitted to Parliament on Tuesday and will be taken to Mnangagwa as well as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC).

Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG), the Bocha Community Development Trust (BCDT) and the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (CCDT) teamed together to come up with the petition.

Addressing a press conference in Harare yesterday, CNRG director, Farai Maguwu, alleged that persecution of the villagers who live within the Chiadzwa diamond fields had worsened since ZCDC took over the claims in 2016.

He alleged that 15 people have been killed at the hands of ZCDC security personnel and warned that the number could be higher.

“The actual deaths known to us are 15. These people were killed in shootings while some died from dog bites and torture. However, the actual number of deaths is not known because the State is concealing the scale of the killings,” Maguwu alleged.

Maguwu has had so many run-ins with the authorities who have since discredited him and his work.

CCDC chairperson, Gladys Mavusa, said due to the restriction of movement imposed on Chiadzwa, villagers had now been subjected to life-threatening harassments by ZCDC security guards.

“We don’t know if we are still being considered as human beings at all. We live like wild animals enclosed in a game park.

“Our relatives are not allowed to visit us unless they have obtained clearance letters from Mutare and if you happen to stray into some areas, the guards set vicious dogs on you.

“Their guards are so powerful that they can even storm funerals and start searching people or close bars at the business centre. We are leading the life of animals or even prisoners and this is why we are saying the government must look into this because we cannot continue like this,” Mavusa said.

She claimed last year the CCDC assisted 256 torture victims to get medical assistance.

Piano Chipindirwe, who was representing traditional leaders, said ZCDC had imposed a curfew on the villagers.

“I lived during the (the late former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian) Smith regime and I can tell you we never saw this happening,” said Chipindirwe.

As a result of the abuses and torture, alleged the three communities, they were petitioning government and Parliament to swiftly intervene and bring an end to these violations.

“Whereas section 66(2) of the Zimbabwe Constitution states that every Zimbabwean citizen and everyone else who is legally in Zimbabwe has the right to move freely within Zimbabwe, reside in any part of the country and leave the country at will, we bring to your attention the restriction to movement and association brought about upon the Marange community by the discovery of alluvial diamonds in the area in 2006.

“When commercial mining began in 2009, the Robert Mugabe government declared sections of the Marange community protected areas under the Protected Areas Places and Areas Act, a law that makes it near impossible for people to visit relatives or friends.

“The law has seen the Marange community being cut off from the rest of Zimbabwe so much that in cases of emergency, relatives in other areas are unable to render assistance to their family members that reside in the Marange area as they have to produce clearance letters obtained in Mutare, 185km away,” they said in the petition.

“We are also grossly concerned about the continuing harassment of the Marange community by police, soldiers and security officials of the ZCDC.

“Villagers are required to carry their IDs at all times and when found without them, they are force-marched to a place named Diamond Base where they are assaulted and humiliated.

“This ill-treatment has not spared elderly people. It has also become a norm for ZCDC security guards to handcuff and set vicious dogs on artisanal miners who would have been captured,” they said of the alleged violations.

The fields in Marange are considered to be one of the world’s biggest deposits of diamonds.

While the gems were discovered decades ago, a diamond rush only ensued in 2006, resulting in Mugabe’s government deploying the military to restore order.

At the height of the mining of diamonds, Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources, Anjin Investments, Diamond Mining Company, Kusena and Gye Nyame were some of the companies which were involved in the extraction of the gems in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).

The mining companies’ licences were not renewed after Mugabe made a claim that $15 billion had not been remitted to Treasury during the period the firms were mining in Marange.

And in a controversial move, the government subsequently replaced the mining companies with the State-owned ZCDC, which now exclusively carries out all the mining in the area.

In 2012, long before Mugabe alleged that the $15 billion had been spirited away, a watchdog group campaigning against “blood” diamonds had also released a damning report in which it alleged that more than $2 billion worth of diamonds had been stolen from the Marange fields. DailyNews