04 November 2008
Five illegal diamond miners were shot dead by police over the weekend in the Chiadzwa diamond fields of Marange District. According to human rights lawyer Passmore Nyakureba, police ‘drove’ the miners into an ambush using a helicopter, and fired tear gas and live ammunition. The miners had escaped from the diamond fields and were hiding in nearby mountains. Bloomberg news agency journalist Brian Latham told Newsreel that he spoke to Nyakureba over the phone and the lawyer confirmed these incidents have ‘become an almost everyday occurrence.’ The total number of miners killed could be much higher as more information keeps trickling in.
Due to the massive economic collapse in Zimbabwe thousands are flocking to the area in the hope of finding diamonds to alleviate their extreme poverty. The diamond fields were seized by the government from the UK based African Consolidated Resources Plc, and handed over to the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation in 2006. With ZANU PF linked businessmen and politicians benefiting from the diamonds the security forces have been clamping down on everyone else outside the elite circle. Nyakureba told Bloomberg, ‘The situation in Chiadzwa resembles a war zone. People are being shot at or mauled by police dogs on a daily basis in the diamond area.’
Emphasizing the enormity of the problem is the fact that over 9000 illegal diamond miners were arrested by police in August this year alone, while nearly 2000 gems were confiscated in different raids. Only last year the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono admitted the country was losing US$ 400 million to illegal diamond smuggling. Making the picture even more complicated is the reported battle for control of the diamonds between the Reserve Bank, the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. ZANU PF bigwigs, including retired army General Solomon Mujuru, are taking advantage of the confusion and getting licences to mine the fields.
Other reports suggest the diamond fields are now run by the Presidents Office, in conjunction with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who are granting licences for exporters. During the just ended elections the Reserve Bank was accused of sponsoring ZANU PF youth militia who terrorized and killed MDC activists before and after the elections. The bank has also been key in funding other repressive activities, outside its jurisdiction as a central bank. The link between the control of the diamonds and the funding of ZANU PF’s repressive machinery has not been lost on analysts.Meanwhile in a desperate bid to fight cash shortages the central bank has introduced new Z$100,000, Z$500,000 and Z$1 million bank notes. The bills are meant to be officially in circulation by Friday but reports indicate some foreign currency dealers already had the new notes on Tuesday. Only a few months ago the Reserve Bank dropped 10 zeroes off the currency. This was in addition to the previous removal of 3 zeroes made in 2006. Analysts say without proper political and economic reforms the measures from the central bank will just not work.