As Zimbabwe continues to battle with a struggling economy, de-industrialisation, hunger and unemployment, the ruling ZANU PF party has been accused of trading the country's vast mineral wealth in exchange for arms.
A detailed report by the news and analysis website Africa Confidential has claimed that "choice mining concessions," including concessions rich in platinum and gold, were handed to China and Russia in exchange for weapons.
The report "Arms-for-minerals trades exposed in Zim" cites high level sources within the country's security and mining sectors, and names Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa as two of the facilitators of the deals.
The deals reportedly took the form of joint ventures between the foreign owned companies and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC). Some of the deals were made during the tenure of the unity government, without the knowledge or support of ZANU PF's then political partners, the MDC parties.
This includes a joint venture with a Russian firm, CBC Russia, which has rights for chrome mining in Darwendale. African Confidential states however that "the partners are concentrated on platinum," adding that a Russian news agency claimed last year that Russia could supply helicopter gunships to Zimbabwe in exchange for platinum rights.
But it is China's involvement that has raised the most concern, with a number of shady deals, including partnerships with the Chinese weapons manufacturer Norinco, being made.
Norinco, according to the report, has invested in Zimbabwe either directly or through subsidiary units partnered with the ZMDC. Through its subsidiary companies, Wanbao and Zimbao, Norinco holds platinum claims near Chegutu, mineral rights for copper mining at the Sanyati mine, and gold claims in Chimanimani.
"All the indications are that many of these deals are also barter deals for current or past arms shipments," Africa Confidential reported, saying shipments have been "clandestinely" brought into the country.
The report also said: "A massive shipment of Chinese small arms bound for Zimbabwe that was halted by dockers in Durban in April 2008, just before the general election and turned away, was from Norinco."
Norinco was last year also reportedly included in a joint venture agreement to start mining at the platinum concessions seized from Anglo Platinum and Implats in 2008. Those concessions were seized as part of a loan agreement that saw $100 million being handed to ZANU PF ahead of elections that year.
The African Confidential report also explains how rights to Zimbabwe's mineral wealth were handed to China instead of cash in 2009, in order for the Ministry of Defence to purchase 12 K-8 jet-trainer aircraft worth $240 million. Only a fraction of the costs were covered by money from the Reserve Bank, but the payments were made leading to the delivery of the aircraft. And in 2011 it was also reported that the Chinese government had sent a shipment of 20,000 AK-47 rifles to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
The Chinese Defence Industries meanwhile is a majority owner of the Anjin mining firm at the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields, which has not paid tax or remitted diamond profits to the government. The shadowy ownership structure of the firm also support claims that illicit cash from the diamond mines was being used to finance ZANU PF's election campaign.
This is not the first time that claims of this nature have been made. In 2010, the UK's Daily Mail newspaper reported that a top secret deal between Mugabe and China's 'Red Army' was keeping the regime in power, in an 'arms-for-diamonds' arrangement that the newspaper said was driving the plunder of the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
Farai Maguwu, the director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, told SW Radio Africa that they are concerned about "the manner in which the minerals are being mortgaged for individual benefit."
"I think we need to revisit all the mining concessions negotiated over the past decade, to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are the winner in any deal negotiated. All the deals that do not promote development at a community level should be revised and possibly nullified," Maguwu said.