Security officials have raised alarm over an exponential increase in illegal panning activities in Chiadzwa diamond fields with more than 3000 panners arrested this year only.
Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) chief security officer Ellias Mvere told delegates at the recently held Diamond Indaba that there has been a two hundred percentage increase in arrest of illegal panners.
Inversely while previous statistics showed that locals were thirty percent of arrested suspects, this has increased to about eighty percent of over three thousand panners arrested this year, said Commissioner Mhere.
"Illegal diamond panners commonly referred to as gwejas remain a cause for concern to the operations of the ZCDC company and continue being a threat to the National economy.
"In the last indaba, a total of 1 375 illegal miners had been arrested. Notably, only 30% of those arrests were of individuals from Manicaland.
"However, since then, the department has made a total of 3 259 arrests. Worryingly, only 21 percent of the arrests were illegal panners from outside Manicaland.
"This represents an increase in illegal panner arrests from the Province, highlighting the need to further engage the local leadership so that cases of illegal panning can be eliminated," said Mhere.
He added that the illegal miners, sponsored by illegal buyers, were using sophisticated syndicates of connivance and corruption with some inside security details to evade arrests, as he appealed for a collaborative effort with local leadership.
"The panners are operating from bases on the mountains and some are offered rented accommodation by local villagers and shop owners.
"The intelligence we have suggest that the panners are being sponsored by illegal buyers and syndicate managers. This highlights the need to further engage the local leadership so that cases of illegal panning can be eliminated," he said.
Minister of State for Manicaland Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba said this was a reflection of the impoverished state of affairs in the country calling for formalization of illegal panners, as a sustainable solution to empowering local communities.
Formalization of artisanal mining, if properly implemented, will ring fence revenue from diamonds by curbing illicit financial flows rampant in the diamond sector, says Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association deputy director Shamiso Mtisi.
Mtisi said however warned that there should be a legal framework to guide formalization of artisanal saying that a haphazard approach will foment chaos in the diamond sector.
He said to curb the scourge of artisanal mining ZCDC should follow Kimberly Process 2010 Joint Work Plan guidelines which require governments or mining entities to fence off diamond mining areas.
"In terms of formalization of artisanal miners, the first thing is to develop a framework for formalization and also a legal instrument for formalization and also a legal instrument just like they have done in other jurisdictions.
"If you just open up the mines for artisanal miners without controlling them or organizing artisanal miners it will be creating chaos and will result in non-compliance of KP standards," said Mtisi.
"One of the recommendations of the Kimberly Process in a joint work plan that was developed (2010) was that all areas where there are diamonds should be fenced, but what we have is situation where some areas are still open and there is no control there," he added.