22 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Chiefs Demand Diamonds Stake, Claim 'Spirits Are Angry'

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

MUTARE -- President of the Chiefs' Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira has said diamond mining operations in Chiadzwa are facing numerous problems because the spirits are angry at government and mining companies for snubbing traditional leaders and local cultures.

Addressing stakeholders at Manicaland province alternative mining indaba organised by Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) last week, Charumbira accused the government and mining companies of disrespecting cultural values of communities they were operating in.

"You know, some of these things are spiritual. It is unfortunate that the government did not consult traditional leaders on how to extract the diamonds. The diamonds are on our traditional land. There are supposed to be rituals done first in order to appease the spirits," he said.

"The land belongs to us and the diamonds are ours. We are the ancestors of this land where diamonds lie on, but, the government decided to go it alone. Look now there are so many problems in Chiadzwa."

Charumbira said traditional leaders were of the view that mining companies were violating cultural rites in their operations.

"They come into communities, displace the villagers and pollute their environment. Villagers are suffering," he said.

"There are violations of cultural rites. Our ancestors are not happy because of the disrespect of their rights since they stay in a rich land, but are not benefitting from their ancestral land resources."

Other traditional leaders also accused foreign companies of looting the country's minerals with little benefit to the local communities.

"We have the diamonds in our midst but we are the poorest. We demand that chiefs sit on the boards of mining firms in areas under their jurisdiction to ensure they bring development to their communities," said Chief Gilbert Marange.

He said it was a mockery that the recent Antwerp diamond sales in Belgium, saw government receiving a paltry US$11,5 million out of the US$80,5 million realised from the sale of 1239.654 million carats.

Villagers living around the Chiadzwa diamond mining area accused police officials at the Diamond Base in Marange of ill-treating them.

They threatened to sue the police officers alleging that their rights were being violated as they were now living like captives.

A villager, Maruva Jena accused police of indiscriminately assaulting locals, especially youths, who were often mistaken for illegal diamond panners.

"Last week more than 40 people were rounded up by police at Hot Springs while watching soccer at the business centre. They were accused of being diamond panners or keeping panners at their homesteads," said Jena.

"I followed them to the police base because my relatives were arrested too. What I saw is very disheartening. The amount of torture cannot even be equated to that of the Smith regime."

She said the names of some of the police officers involved were known to the villagers.

"As a community, we mobilised money together with the tortured victims to enable them to be examined medically to assess the extent of their injuries," said Jena.

"Soon we will be mounting a legal battle against them. It is not our problem that diamonds were found in our area. As women, we are also going to protest at the police base. We are not foreigners and we are going to show them that we are equal as humans."

Others said police action against the locals had reached alarming levels and urged human rights organisations and government to intervene. The chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on environment, water, tourism and hospitality industry, Anastancia Ndlovu urged the locals to always carry their identity cards.

She said the ministries of Mines and Local government should visit the area to assess the levels of pollution in the area due to mining operations.

The mining indaba was aimed at providing alternative space for stakeholders to discuss challenges in the country's mining sector.

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