8 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Dispute Erupts Over Bikita Diamond Mines

Photo: Denford Magora
The reddish-coloured diamonds of Marange in Zimbabwe.

A DISPUTE has erupted over the mining of recently discovered diamonds in the Bikita district of Masvingo province, with former freedom fighters in the area alleging corruption and contesting the "unclear circumstances" surrounding mining of the gems.

Kimberlitic diamonds were discovered in Bikita's Village One and Two under Chief Budzi last year resulting in a number of mining firms jostling to acquire rights to extract the gems.

Bayrich Enterprises, a Harare-based mining company whose directors are Kennedy Ngirazi and Edward Buta, is already involved in mining diamonds in the area.

Sources in Bikita say senior police and army officers are also involved.

The new mining activities - which include tantalite - have caused intense fighting in the district with war veterans, war collaborators and ex-political prisoners, detainees and restrictees in Bikita expressing displeasure over the issuance of mining rights to people from outside the province.

Through their lawyer James Makiya, the former freedom fighters wrote a letter to the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) in Masvingo on January 22 2013 expressing "grave concern at recent mining ventures that are setting up in Bikita under very unclear circumstances".

Reads part of the letter: "One such operation is in Bikita East, under chief Budzi area, whilst the other is in Bikita West under Chief Marozva. Information at hand is that the operation set up in Bikita East is a diamond mine, whilst diggings already taking place in Marozva are for tantalite and other minerals.

"Our clients believe that the above operations are illegal as they did not follow all procedures in the mining laws as well as environmental and empowerment laws."

They demanded that Ema furnish them with "vital information within 24 hours" upon receipt of the letter on the following questions:

"Did Ema certify the two mining projects to take place? Are there Ema reports on the two projects? If so, when were they complied and did Ema involve local communities in assessing the two projects?"

The war veterans' letter was also copied to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, Police General Headquarters' legal department and the police in Bikita.

The former fighters are also contemplating taking the matter to the High Court for redress and are pushing for a physical inspection and verification of documentation regarding the two operations.

Chief Marozva confirmed illegal mining activities are taking place in his area involving tantalite. "A lot of illegal panners descended in this area (Marozva) with intentions to mine for tantalite mineral," Chief Marozva told the Zimbabwe Independent.

"Among those who came to mine the mineral illegally was a big company that came with its equipment. I am not sure of its name. After the intervention of the police we no longer see it and even the illegal panners, though we know that some come back during the evening."

Bikita district administrator Edgars Seenza said he was not aware of the accusations. "I do not know about the letter," Seenza said. "Some time last year there were allegations that operations were not being done lawfully, but when we got there with the Ministry of Mines, Ema and council, we were advised by the provincial mining engineer and commissioner that they were aware of the activities and authority had been given for mining."

Seenza said Bayrich Enterprise, which is mining in Bikita East, was not working with the Chinese but had engaged them during the prospective period. Contacted for comment, Bayrich Enterprise director Ngirazi continuously said he was in a meeting. Efforts to get a comment from Masvingo Ema officials Milton Muusha and Somandla Ndlovu were fruitless as they were said to be locked in meetings.

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