18 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Marange Diamond Region Hit By 'Panic and Uncertainty'

The government's plan to consolidate control of the Marange diamond region is said to have created a 'panic' situation, with mining investors, employers and workers uncertain about the future.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in March this year announced plans to reduce the current number of mining firms in Chiadzwa to just one. This was followed by a threat by Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa, to shut down all operations at the diamonds fields, where millions of dollars in 'missing' diamond revenue remains unaccounted for. He said that the government was losing diamond revenue through "cartels," and that shutting down all mining at the alluvial fields was better than this continued revenue loss.

No further action has been taken since these threats which, according to a local research group, have left people 'panicking'.

James Mupfumi, the acting director of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the government's plans have created 'uncertainty'. He said a direct result of this was the "arbitrary slashing of salaries" by the Mbada Diamonds firm, which has cut the pay of its workforce by 50%. The company has cited 'low production' as the reason for the salary cut.

Mbada is the latest of the seven firms operational at Chiadzwa to make changes with a direct impact on its workers. Recently, the Anjin diamond mine sent part of its workforce on forced leave, while workers at other mines have reported not getting paid for months.

"Because of that quietness and darkness over what is happening, we are hearing of companies downsizing, companies sending workers home without salaries. There is panic, there is uncertainty and nobody knows what is happening," Mupfumi said

He added: "We are also hearing that some investors and shareholders are pulling out the mining equipment at night and taking it to Mozambique, while people from the military are coming into the mining fields, also under cover of darkness."

Mupfumi explained that the local community has been bearing the brunt of the confusion, with an increase in illicit activity being reported at the mines.

"The fact that the mining firms haven't been paying the workers means there are more organised syndicates bringing in more illegal panners. And the response has been brutal. We've met with people who have been victimised and beaten after being accused of being panners by the security. So it has worsened the lives of already poverty stricken people who have not benefited from the diamonds ever," Mupfumi said.

The speculation meanwhile about the true intentions of the government's Chiadzwa consolidation plan has been rife, amid reports that steps are being taken to hand over control to the Mugabe family-linked Mbada firm.

According to a recent report by Africa Confidential, Mbada is set to be the "last miner standing" and would ultimately be a joint venture with the ZANU PF government.

"But we hear that the biggest private share may already be in the process of transferring to President Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe," Africa Confidential reported.

Africa Confidential said that "Grace and her three children, rather than the President, are the beneficiaries of a 50% stake in Mbada," according to two independent sources from the financial sector and an airline official who has worked with the President's new son-in-law, Simba Chikore.

Minister Chidhakwa, allegedly a nephew of Robert Mugabe's, is also reportedly leading the plans to put Mbada in control, after being placed in the Ministry "to secure the [Mugabe] family's interests."

The CRD's Mupfumi meanwhile said that the ZANU PF "patronage system" has been at play in the diamond fields ever since the gems were discovered, and nothing will improve until there is a strong outcry from the public and civil society.

"I don't think the government is sincere is stamping out corruption, because it boils down to political will to change things. For years the shareholding of the mines have been parceled out to senior members of ZANU PF and the army, and we haven't seen any positive impact of diamond mining on the communities. And that is not going to change while the patronage system is working," Mupfumi said.


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