GOVERNMENT plans to seal off newly discovered diamond fields in Masvingo province's Bikita district to halt illegal mining of the precious stones, Mines minister Obert Mpofu has said.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Mpofu said government had decided to control access to the area to avoid a repeat of the Marange diamond fields free-for-all where thousands of people descended on Chiadzwa to illegally mine diamonds before security forces brutally moved in to stop the chaos.
Mpofu insisted this would be achieved peacefully and in an organised manner to plug mineral leakages and allow the nation to benefit from its resource wealth.
"Yes we will seal off the area, but it may not be exactly as Chiadzwa because that was at a time we were not sure of the availability of diamonds. We have learnt our lesson and will do things in a much more organised manner," said Mpofu.
Mpofu confirmed there were Kimberlite diamonds in the Bikita area, saying he had received confirmation from his officials after getting police reports about illegal mining activities.
"According to the report, some villagers reported that there were diamonds in the Devure Ranch and the Chinese came and started prospecting and found diamonds, but said they were of no commercial value. But I am told now they have come with heavy equipment so I have instructed the police and my officials to stop them," Mpofu said.
"We are told equipment has been moved, which is very worrying because we are unaware of any special grant or any claim that was given to any investor to mine diamonds in that area."
Two weeks ago, the Independent reported a dispute had erupted over the mining of recently discovered diamonds in Bikita, with former freedom fighters in the area alleging corruption and contesting the "unclear circumstances" surrounding mining of the gems.
Kimberlite diamonds were discovered in Bikita's Village One and Two under Chief Budzi last year, resulting in a number of mining firms, including Harare-based Bayrich Enterprises as well as senior police and army officers, jostling to acquire rights to mine the gems.
Mpofu said the new diamond discoveries would go a long way towards improving the country's meagre revenue collections.