13 February 2017

Zimbabwe: Chiadzwa Atrocities - Security Opens Up

Photo: About Aristocrats-hat
An aerial view of the controversial Chiadzwa diamond diggings.

This week the Zimbabwe Independent -- which in December last year began publishing fresh stories based on our ground-breaking investigation into the Marange alluvial diamonds discovery and subsequent looting -- made a breakthrough by interviewing various security officers who were involved in gross human rights violations.

Owing to the sensitive nature of the issue, it was difficult for our investigative team to convince senior security officers to open up but, through painstaking efforts, they finally agreed to shed light into how the state wiped out the illegal diamond miners under Operation Hakudzokwi which resulted in untold suffering, arbitrary arrests and deaths of artisanal miners at the hands of ruthless security forces.

This special series is supported by the Investigative Journalism Fund and will continue for months.

"There was fear within the Joint Operations Command (Joc) at sub-national level that, if left unabated, the chaos in Marange would degenerate into a civil war because the 'mashurugwis' and the 'machipinges' who had invaded Chiadzwa were causing untold sufferings to other illegal miners and the villagers," a senior military official who was deployed in Chiadzwa said this week.

"We had seen what had happened in Sierra Leone so the army had to move in. Chiadzwa is close to the Mozambique border which has guns everywhere and, as conflict in Marange escalated, there was danger these arms would find their way into the country as illegal miners and militias sought to defend their territories," he said.

Sierra Leone suffered terrible social and economic costs as a result of its civil war and the fight over diamond control. Under the cover of warfare, the rebels committed heinous crimes against humanity in the form of murder, rape, and mutilation. The war between 1991 and 1999 claimed over 75 000 lives, caused 500 000 Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the country's 4,5 million people. Also during this period, the Sierra Leone economy was robbed of hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of illegal diamonds.

A senior Joc officer this week narrated how the state moved into Marange after thousands of illegal miners invaded the diamond fields.

"At the peak of illegal mining, close to 35 000 people invaded Marange and the violence was becoming a regional conflict as people from regional countries were also caught up in the chaos," the officer said.

Between 2006 and 2007, Joc at sub-national level -- which includes the heads of the army, police and Central Intelligence Organisation but without ministers -- launched Operation Chikorokoza Chapera to remove illegal miners from Chiadzwa.

Despite this operation having been launched countrywide, it was escalated in Marange where it entailed searches, arrests and torture. During the operation, police deployed some 600 police officers, arrested about 22 500 persons nationwide whom it said were illegal miners (some 9 000 of them were arrested in Marange), and seized gems and minerals with an estimated total value of US$7 million.

The operation was marked by human rights abuses, corruption, extortion and smuggling. Many former farm workers who had been deprived of their livelihoods during the fast-track land reform programme, as well as small traders who had been deprived of their market stalls by Operation Murambatsvina (clean up) in 2005, were affected.

Government then launched Operation Hakudzokwi in 2008 aimed at ensuring that the illegal diamond miners were thoroughly tortured and terrified that they would not countenance returning to Marange.

"This was more brutal than any other operation you can think of. It made some people to even leave this country and in my whole life in the security I have never seen such brutality as the security details made sure that whoever was caught would either die or never return to Marange," said one senior army official this week.

In 2008, soldiers from 3 Brigade in Mutare and military commandos were the first to arrive in Marange to crack down on illegal diamond miners.

"We unleashed overwhelming force as the aim was to make sure no one comes back," a military officer said, adding: "However, the operation was let down by several officers who began to form syndicates with the miners in order to get diamonds or money as the army was failing to feed its officers.

Operation Hakudzokwi came at a time when Zimbabwe was experiencing hyperinflation which rose to world record levels until the country abandoned the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the US dollar.

"As a result of the hyperinflation and a serious economic meltdown, the soldiers soon formed syndicates with the illegal miners as they had to fend for a living just as the illegal miners were doing," the senior officer said.

It was during this period that Zimbabwean soldiers rampaged on the streets of Harare, assaulting people and committing robbery amid a serious liquidity crisis and severe food shortages.

About 100 soldiers looking for foreign currency dealers in the outskirts of Harare began beating up anyone in their way.

According to a Human Rights Watch report entitled Diamonds in the Rush, to guarantee for themselves a cut of the diamond revenue, police officers formed "syndicates" with local miners.

"A syndicate was a group of miners that operated under the direct control of members of the police. Groups of between two and five police officers would partner with a large group of local miners under a loose arrangement where police provided the local miners security and escort in the fields in return for a share of proceeds from selling any diamonds the local miners found," reads the report

A briefing note by senior police officer Assistant Commissioner Nicholas Mawere to the sub-national Joc dated May 7 laid bare the looting syndicates which were formed and the severe brutality of the security operation.

The Independent has established that Mawere's report was typed and printed at one of the big diamond mining companies in Chiadzwa because police did not have their own facilities. The document was subsequently leaked from there.

The memo written by Mawere, who commanded the Support Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, shows how the security forces resorted to criminality for survival by raiding food that belonged to the illegal miners as well as partnering with them in exchange for illicit diamonds.

"Period ranging from 23 March to 05 April witnessed an increase in gweja (illegal diamond panner) population and activities in the area of Chiadzwa Primary and Muchena areas.

"This was attributed to connivance with gwejas by outgoing contingent of 2,2 infantry battalion. The unit formed syndicates with illegal panners towards the end of its tour of duty," reads the memo.

"As a result the command tightened security at the illegal panning sites by pitching tents at the sites and allocating responsibilities to each officer. In addition, sweep-up operations were conducted in the area to deal with increased gweja population."

The memo also states that "disciplinary action has been taken against the offending officers. Since the operation started, 14 officers including the commander of Jesse base were expelled from the operation."

Mawere, who was leading Operation Hakudzokwi, has since been fired after his memo was leaked to the public.

"Joc was very angry with Mawere after his memo leaked and accused him of incompetence in handling sensitive documents," an official, who was also in Chiadzwa during the operation which killed 200 people, said.

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