12 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Key Issues Ignored At Vic Falls Diamond Conference

Photo: Denford Magora
Zimbabwe diamond.

The Zimbabwe Diamond Conference began in Victoria Falls on Monday with top politicians and diamond industry figures making speeches that praised Zimbabwe's efforts.

Local activists are attending the conference under the banner of the KP Civil Society Coalition (CSC). KP stands for the Kimberley Process, an international grouping of diamond producers whose aim is to stamp out blood diamonds.

One activist spoke to SW Radio Africa and said there is a discrepancy between what the politicians are saying and what happens on the ground in Zimbabwe.

Shamiso Mtisi, from Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), told SW Radio Africa that the morning session was dominated by speeches from Robert Mugabe, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Mpofu said he had invited Thabo Mbeki because of his international reputation as a mediator in Syria and because of his role in initiating the talks that led to creation of Zimbabwe's unity government.

However, critics dismissed the invitation as an attempt to legitimise the chaotic situation in Chiadzwa and lend credibility to a ZANU PF elite who are depriving the country of much needed revenue by siphoning off the diamond funds

According to Mtisi, the politicians and diamond industry officials all touched on issues to do with accountability and transparency, praising the country for improvements. But key issues that affect Zimbabweans and local communities were ignored.

Mtisi said the CSC representatives wanted issues like environmental pollution and the massive theft of diamonds to be discussed. They also want local communities to benefit from diamond mining, not just the government elite who manage it.

The conference is being hosted by Mines Minister Obert Mpofu who has been quoted as saying he wanted to show that Zimbabwe "stands ready to give the world full transparency on its achievements as a major diamond producer."

But the event takes place against the backdrop of a report released Monday by Partnership Africa Canada, which shows that diamond proceeds continue to enrich only a few people, including Minister Mpofu himself and top military and ZANU PF chefs.

The report says hundreds of millions of dollars have gone missing this year alone and billions have been diverted since 2008. Finance Minister Tendai Biti says only $46 million was submitted to the treasury this year, when $600 million was expected.

Also attending are Kimberly Process chair¬person Gillian Milovanovic and the KP monitor for Zimbabwe, Abbey Chikane. Earlier this month Chikane was criticised for suggesting that "all diamond mines in Zimbabwe have reached international standards and stand as a model for many diamond-producing countries."

This was dismissed as 'misleading' by Global Witness campaigner Mike Davis, who explained that Chikane's comments reflect the KP's limited mandate. Davis said the KP's focus on technical issues ignores the political ramifications of the Zim scenario, where diamond funds are said to be funding the Mugabe regime ahead of the elections due next year.

Davis said Global Witness was not taking part in the conference because they did not expect much to be resolved, in terms of the key issues that need addressing in Chiadzwa.

The Vic falls diamond conference continues on Tuesday.

PAC Report on Zim diamonds: Reap What You Sow

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