HARARE - The chaos and confusion that has characterised developments at the Marange diamond fields in Manicaland, ever since the government made its controversial decision last month to expropriate all the gem claims in the area, continues unabated.
In addition to the move creating massive tension between Zimbabwe and its powerful political allies, China and Russia, three illegal diamond miners who invaded Marange after the expropriations died after a red zone mine shaft they were working in collapsed as they attempted to flee a police raid last week — 12 are believed to have survived the collapse.
Now observers also say under-fire Mines minister, Walter Chidakwa (pictured), probably misled President Robert Mugabe into believing that Chiadzwa diamonds worth $15 billion had not been accounted for in the past six years — when one considers the fact that the entire global rough diamond industry is worth just about $13 billion a year.
Speaking in a belated birthday interview with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) last week, Mugabe justified the government’s decision to nationalise the Chiadzwa mines by saying the country had lost about $15 billion to illicit diamond trade — adding that treasury had received less than $2 billion from Marange diamonds.
But industry experts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said with the global diamond industry trading about $13 billion a year, and with Zimbabwe not among the biggest producers of uncut diamonds, it was clear that Mugabe had “once again” been misled about the real state of affairs in the industry.
Two years ago, the nonagenarian publicly accused former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) chairman, Godwills Masimirembwa, of receiving $6 million from Ghanaian investors, but was later forced to make an embarrassing U-turn — admitting that he had been fed wrong information by his aides.
According to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), global rough diamond sales have averaged $12,6 billion a year in the last decade, with Zimbabwe’s declared rough diamond output averaging a miserly $266 million per year.
“At its typical average $50/carat price, Zimbabwe would need to produce about 40 million carats per year to reach the levels suggested by the president,” one of the analysts said — noting that the country’s peak rough diamond output was 12,1 million carats, that was recorded in 2013.
Another analyst, Issis Mwale, also said the president’s figure “may have been a bit more than the actual figure”.
“Look, the figure makes little sense that a country like Botswana had an average output of 23 million carats over the past five years, with an annual revenue of $3,3 billion — yet Zimbabwe then claims to have lost $15 billion from Marange’s low-grade stones,” she said.
Contacted by the Daily News yesterday to comment on the $15 billion figure, a cagey Chidakwa chose to say his ministry had not moved to make police reports on the president’s claims.
“We have not done anything yet and that is all I will say at this moment,” he said.
ZRP spokesperson, Charity Charamba, also said she was not in a position to comment on the matter as it had been raised by the president.
“It is something that the president said, so you have to talk to the presidential spokesperson Mr George Charamba,” she said.
At least 15 illegal diamond miners were feared to have died after a red zone mine shaft they were working in collapsed as they attempted to flee a police raid late last Tuesday night.
This put to shame claims by Chidakwa that chaos had not engulfed the Marange diamond fields ever since he controversially announced that the government was expropriating all the gem claims in the area.
At the same time, a brooding China has warned Zimbabwe to beware after the government ill-advisedly moved to seize all the diamond mining claims in Chiadzwa, including those in which Chinese companies have interests.
The Asian powerhouse, which has been one of the few major economies that have kept their relations with Harare warm over the past 16 years of political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe, told the Daily News that Zimbabwe must respect property rights in the country.
“We hope that the Zimbabwean side would earnestly safeguard the legitimate rights of the Chinese companies and employees, according to the local laws and the ‘Agreement on the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investments between China and Zimbabwe,” Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Huang Ping said in a terse email response to questions.
“The Chinese side is willing to enhance communication and negotiation with the Zimbabwean side, and together create a conducive environment for companies from both sides to conduct mutually-beneficial cooperation,” Ping added.
Analysts canvassed by the Daily News said although the statement was couched in diplomatic language, its message was “clear and hard-hitting” — and amounted to Zimbabwe being “put on notice” by the Asian giant.
Meanwhile, High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire shellacked Chidakwa late last week, ruling that he wilfully defied a court order earlier in the week that Mbada Diamonds be allowed to return to its Chiadzwa mining operations.
The ruling was made after the South African-owned 50 percent shareholder in Mbada — Grandwell Holdings — approached the High Court challenging Chidakwa’s earlier move to expropriate all mining claims in Chiadzwa, as well as the minister’s later defiance of the court’s interim order that Mbada be allowed access to its operations.
“It is declared that the order of this court on February 29, 2016 has not been complied with. The non-compliance . . . was due to the wilful and/or deliberate acts of commission or omission by the first, second, third and fourth respondents (Chidakwa, Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, Marange Resources and Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company respectively).
“By reason of the foregoing, the first, second, third and fourth respondents forfeit their right of audiences with this court in this matter, and the corollary obligation of this court to extend its jurisdiction over their cause is hereby withdrawn until such time that they have purged their default.
“At the resumption of the matter... unless there is evidence of compliance with the order in question, all the documents filed by the first, second, third and fourth respondents in opposition to the applicant’s (Grandwell’s) case shall be struck off and the matter shall proceed as if in default,” Mafusire said scathingly, postponing the matter today.
This was after Grandwell had again approached the court seeking Chidakwa and the government entities to be held in contempt for violating Mafusire’s February 29 order allowing the diamond firm back to the Chiadzwa site to secure its claims and equipment.
Well-placed Zanu PF sources have told the Daily News that Chidakwa’s move to expropriate the diamond mines was closely linked to the ruling party’s worsening and seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars.