SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Illegal Diamond Panning On the Rise Amidst Chiadzwa Uncertainty

The uncertainty about the future ownership of the Chiadzwa diamond claims has seen a rapid increase in the amount of illegal diamond panning there, with a 'brutal' response being meted out by security details.

Syndicates of diamond panners have been active at the diamond fields ever since alluvial deposits of the stones were discovered. But according to the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), recent months have seen an increase in the numbers of syndicates and panners trying their luck at the alluvial deposits.

CRD acting director James Mupfumi told SW Radio Africa this week that production at the mining firms has gone down ever since the government said it was planning to hand over control of the area to just one firm. As a result the firms have not been paying their workers properly, leading to a jump in illegal activity.

"The fact that the mining companies have not been paying workers, has seen more syndicates bringing in more panners. And the response has been very brutal of late by the security forces. Panners and innocent people have been victimised and intimidated and beaten at the diamond base on suspicion of being diamond panners," Mupfumi said.

He added: "This has worsened the lives of already poverty stricken communities who have not benefitted since the mining operations started."

Plans by the government to consolidate control of the diamond area has left things in a state of confusion in Chiadzwa, with no clarity yet about which firm will be handed overall ownership. Speculation is rife that the Mbada Diamonds firm, which has been increasingly linked to the Mugabe family, will be the future diamond baron.

But even Mbada appears to be having serious troubles, and this week the firm faced an angry backlash from workers' unions after announcing it was cutting staff salaries by 50%. The firm has also been dragged to court over an outstanding debt of $180,000 that it owes to a procurement company. That debt, which Mbada has acknowledged, was meant to be paid by the end of April, but Mbada has said the 'liquidity crisis' in the country meant it cannot service the debt.

Mupfumi said that Mbada has never been transparent in its operations, and linked its failures to service debts and pay its staff to this "opacity."

"Workers are saying that production has come down because equipment has not been serviced. So it is a situation where this resource is being mined for years without proper administration taking place, and the funds are not being reinvested into the operations of the mines," Mupfumi explained.

He continued: "It boggles the mind that such a powerful and rich resource is being mined and the company can't pay workers or service machinery. Because of their opacity, it means that probably the executive (of Mbada) was just taking the money."

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