|By Problem Masau|
Helicopters hover every day above Marange diamond’s fields. Chinese nationals together with uniformed soldiers disembark and collect the precious mineral under a closely guarded security detail.
After a while, the helicopter disappears into the sky and only God knows where the diamonds are taken. Evidently proceeds of the minerals are not benefiting the local community as stipulate under the community share ownership trust. Instead, people have remained poor while enduring noise and environmental pollution. The land is paying heavily the prize for ‘sheltering’ the precious mineral.
Asked if the discovery of diamonds were a blessing to the community, Albert Mhlanga who was dislocated from Marange Diamond fields to ARDA Transau said he wishes the minerals were discovered elsewhere. “Miners have failed to develop our area. In fact, we no longer have running water and electricity,” he said.
The situation in ARDA Transau is just a tip of the iceberg of the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe. Chinese business people operating in the area and the country at large have been accused of a cocktail of offences ranging from externalising funds, flouting of labour laws and land degradation in their areas of operation.
Investigations by this reporter shows that Chinese business people in connivance with some government officials are siphoning out Marange diamonds while the money was not finding its way into the national fiscus.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti confirmed that he had trouble with some government officials who were helping the Chinese to siphon money out of the country.
Biti said Chinese diamond firm, Anjin failed to remit revenue from its operations in Zimbabwe’s controversial Marange fields in the first quarter of 2012 amid fears that the money was used clandestinely. “During that time, we did not receive a single cent from Anjin, yet Anjin is seven times bigger than some of the other [diamond] companies,” he said.
Biti said during his tenure there were suspicions that the funds were funneled elsewhere, outside the government central coffers. “Clearly, there might be a parallel government somewhere in respect of where these revenues are going, and are not coming to us,” he said.
The former minister said everything was shrouded in secrecy and controversy. “There is opaqueness and unaccountability surrounding our diamonds. Some top government officials are involved,” he added.
There are many diamond firms extracting the mineral in Marange among them Diamond Mining Corporation, Mbada and Marange Resources. Biti said he used to complain to leaders in the power-sharing government over the diamond revenue shortfall but ZANU PF government officials were reluctant to act as they were the direct beneficiary of the whole deal.
Gross human rights abuse have also been recorded in Marange Diamond field. Workers who spoke to this reporter said the Chinese official’s occasionally set vicious dogs and beat them. Anjin’s former guards filed an $837 506,22 claim against their ex-employer whom they accused of breaching contractual obligations.
According to court papers, the diamond firm employed over 200 security guards between 2010 and 2012 who were now demanding packages ranging from $700 to $7 000 each. When the matter was brought before an arbitrator, Anjin was found on the wrong side of the law.
Sometime in February this year, the security guards appeared before High Court judge Justice November Mtshiya and had their arbitral award, registered as a court order in terms of Section 98(4) of the Labour Act, allowing the guards to obtain a right of execution against Anjin’s property.
However, in April this year, Anjin filed an urgent chamber application for stay of execution, but failed to attend on the court date prompting High Court judge Justice Chinembiri Bhunu to dismiss the application with costs. “The applicant (Anjin) being in default, it is accordingly ordered that the application be and is hereby dismissed with costs,” Bhunu ruled.
Anjin Investment is a joint venture between the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and Chinese investors in a diamond mining project in Marange. Efforts to get a comment from the Chinese officials were fruitless as they referred all the questions to their respective company secretaries who were all evasive.
Anjin’s secretary Charles Tarumbwa acknowledged that they have had problems with workers and the community but said he was not able to comment as some of the issues where behind the country’s courts. “A lot of things have been said about us but we cannot comment because some of the issues are still before the courts,” he said
The Chinese companies have also been accused of polluting rivers. Sample tests done by Biological and Chemical Science Institution on behalf of Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela) on two major rivers in Manicaland, Save and Odzi showed that the rivers are polluted and the communities are at risk of contracting diseases.
The results, according to Zela coordinator Shamiso Mtisi indicated that diamond mining operations have resulted in massive siltation, chemical and heavy metal pollution of Save and Odzi Rivers, with turbidity and total solids exceeding the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Even the colour of the water in the river has turned into red ochre. This shows the water has been contaminated and there are chemical reaction taking place in the rivers, Mtisi said, adding that if corrective measures were not taken, the communities were at risk of contracting diseases.
“When in contact with the skin, the water and mud cause an itching sensation. The report indicates that levels of heavy metals showed high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water.
The report also noted that community was at risk of poisoning.
Under Statutory Instrument 6 of 2007 — effluent and waste disposal — companies and individuals could face a fine or jail term or both for polluting the environment.
Save River is one of the major inland water body in the country and it is a source of livelihoods in Manicaland Province.
The imposing river is a source of recreational for the fun starved people of the diamond rich province.
The river, one of the few that do not run dry all year round is also a source of water for animals in the area.
“It is a source of livelihood for everyone here. Farmers need the river to water their gardens. Fishermen spent most of the time in search of that extra protein.
“Children also play in the crocodile infested river and they have mastered the art of avoiding the dangerous reptile. Women do their laundry,” said Munodiwa Dhliwayo of Chipinge South.
The pollution of Save and Odzi rivers has adversely affected the sources of livelihoods for communities that live along the river in four Districts namely Chipinge, Chimanimani, Buhera and Mutare West (Marange communal lands).
Farai Maguwu, the director of the Centre for Research and Development, a non-governmental organisation which has been calling for transparency in the mining and selling of Marange diamonds, says he has been receiving a lot of complaints from villagers about pollution in the areas.
Maguwu said the government and organisations such as the Environment Management Agency (EMA) must prioritise the situation in these communities to save lives.
The pollution has deprived communities of clean and unpolluted water for drinking, gardening, fishing, livestock watering, bathing and other primary uses.
Last year, Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate directed firms to cease operations along rivers.
“We have directed permanent secretaries in my ministry and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate to immediately stop mining operations that are taking place along river banks,” Chidhakwa said.
However, most companies are still operating along Mazowe River in Mashonaland Central and Angwa River in Mashonaland West.
EMA spokesperson Steady Kangata said the organisation was concerned those large amounts of harmful chromium increase people’s exposure to skin rash or sores.
“If swallowed, some chromium compounds can seriously damage the throat, stomach, intestines, kidneys, and circulatory blood system,” he said.
(This investigative piece was done through the Wits University China Africa Reporting Project)