As the diamond world continues to argue over stones from the rich Marange alluvial field in eastern Zimbabwe, the people of the Chiadzwa communal area wonder if they will ever receive any benefits from the rich ground beneath their feet.
Kimberley Process participants have sharply disagreed over issues including compliance by firms working the field, but the voices of the people most affected are rarely heard.
Residents of the diamond-producing area complain that mining security operations have restricted their freedom, and many of them have been relocated against their will.
Far from wealth, the diamonds have brought them daily challenges. Local representatives say they voiced their complaints to government officials only to be ignored.
Hundreds of former Marange residents have been relocated to Arda Transau, an abandoned, government-owned farm in Odzi, also in Manicaland province, where many complain of hunger and lack of proper sanitation and educational facilities.
Thousands more will be moved away from their homes as mining continues. They fear that they will never receive any benefit from the stones one relocated resident said were “a bad curse to the local people of Marange.”
Access to the Marange area is highly restricted, limiting transparency even for members of Parliament, government officials and human rights groups. Roadblocks and patrols of staked-out claims restrict the freedom of movement of local residents.
“Transportation is paralyzed,” said a Chiadzwa resident who asked not to be named. "No buses are allowed to move in and out of Marange area. The area is quite restricted.”
Tichafara Kusena, councilor of Mukwada Ward, which borders Chiadzwa and is also rich in diamonds, complained that security forces at roadblocks harass the community.
“The local people are not very free when they are moving around because sometimes we are just stopped by the police,” Kusena said. “Anywhere you come across with them, they question you, they search even vehicles and sometimes the vehicles are taken to the diamond base on allegations that the vehicle is not cleared, when it’s not cleared it’s not allowed to move around the mining area. Sometimes they let their dogs on people when they are moving or when they are going to the shops.”
While violence in Marange has subsided considerably since the 2008 military operation securing the zone in which an estimated 200 people - mostly freelance miners - were killed, the community still fears attacks by security personnel guarding claims.
Mbada Diamonds, the largest operator, is said to have expanded its claim recently, but company director David Kassel declined to respond to questions on this point.
Malvern Mudiwa, chairman of the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust, said Mbada has created a "fire-guard" around a large area to mark its newest claim.
But many families still live within the staked-out zone, which is patrolled by armed security guards accompanied by attack dogs. Mudiwa said the dogs attack people or livestock if they wander too close to the fire-guard. But it is impossible to avoid crossing it because it cuts through the community.
“I wouldn’t know what [the guards] are expecting from the villagers who are staying on their own land,” Mudiwa said. “This is why I’m saying this is very unacceptable. As CCDT we condemn this action in the strongest possible way.”
Mbada director Kassel told VOA Studio that alleged human rights abuses are a myth.
“Since the time of my company’s investment into the Marange diamond fields, which is approximately in August to September 2009, I have not been aware or seen or been told by any party, and I’ve been very much involved at community level in the rural areas of Chiadzwa and Marange, I’ve not been made aware of any human rights abuses that are purported to have taken place or to have been taking place or anything of that nature at all. All of that reporting is inaccurate, it’s untrue, and it’s not verifiable or verified.”
Mudiwa, who records the incidents and often helps victims to the hospital, said attacks appear to many to be a mining company tactic to force residents to relocate.
With travel restricted and incidents of harassment frequent, some residents welcome relocation to Arda Transau. One relocated man who gave his name only as Francis said that in Marange, he was afraid to leave his house for fear of the guard dogs.
“Good riddance,” he said of Marange. But he has found life at Arda Transau difficult.
Civil society activist Shamiso Mtisi, a so-called local focal point for the Kimberley Process, said relocated families face starvation in Arda Transau once they have run through compensation of US$1,000 and groceries provided by the mining firms.
Relocation began in July 2010, when Anjin Investments moved 12 families to temporary housing in Arda Transau. A relocated man who asked not to be identified said he did not think he had a choice. He said the governor of Manicaland and the Marange district Administrator told residents they would be forcibly moved if they did not go.
Residents were promised two and half hectares of land with some irrigation, but the 200 families at Arda Transau have much less than one hectare of land from which to eke a living. The shortfall in farmland is disastrous for livelihoods.
“The company simply said we were going to be moved - they never negotiated," said one of the first moved by Anjin. “It was a year of bad harvest. We didn’t have any food. We had to buy food. It got serious before the end of last year.”
The Center for Research and Development in Mutare reported that 146 families were relocated in the middle of the 2010-2011 farming season.
Center Director Farai Maguwu said relocated families lost all of their investment in their fields and had to clear new plots in mid-season at Arda Transau.
“The families were forced to abandon their crops in the midst of the agricultural season,” Maguwu said. “They were given food stocks for 3 months and a US$1000 disturbance fee. They are currently starving whilst the community is now under an army Brigadier Nyakunu whose duty is to effectively conceal humanitarian disaster unfolding.”
Mbada Director Kassel told VOA that Chiadzwa residents were moved to “wonderful accommodations” including arable land, with water, schools and hospitals.
“Relocations are being done with the absolutely approval of the people, in consultation with the people, in consultation with the authorities. There are no forced removals by any means,” Kassel said. “The people are more than happy to move, and there is absolutely no truth to forced removals of people. Certainly not in Mbada’s concession.”
Francis, relocated to Arda Transau by Mbada this May, complained that there is no clean drinking water and his small children have to walk seven kilometers to Odzi for school as the local school that was promised does not yet exist.
“They are proposing to build a school,” he said. “But you see some of these things are just promises. One other thing about the new location is that we don’t have potable water, drinking water. Down there in Chiadzwa, we had a borehole at our home.”
Francis said his family must walk five kilometers to fetch water.
As reported by VOA, Marange diamonds have not benefited the Zimbabwean people. But for Marange residents they have been nothing short of a disaster.
When Anjin started to relocate residents of the Chiadzwa communal area in July 2010, the company had not even gone through the process of a tender to establish its claim with Harare. Eventually moved from temporary shelters, these families say that they still have not seen the facilities established in Arda Transau that they said government officials told them they could expect, such as functioning clinics and schools.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu said he had visited Arda Transau and that the homesteads there are modern and comfortable. “They have done more than 1,000 homesteads which are complete,” Minister Mpofu said. “Those are state-of-the-art homesteads which have not been seen anywhere else in Africa. It is a modern resettlement program.”
Those relocated to Arda Transau did not complain about their homes, but said the water and electricity promised by the officials before their relocation is still not available.
“We were allocated 4-bedroom houses. Nothing else. No water, no electricity. They said electricity would be supplied,” a man relocated by Anjin told VOA.
“Right now, people are just starving there at Arda Transau. They have no food, lots of those people who were given plots this year, they didn’t plow during the past rainy season, and as a result they are in hunger.”
The Anjin resident said people who had been relocated to the Anjin area were still better off than those on the Mbada side. Anjin, he said, had offered some of the men construction jobs for a few dollars a day. But now those jobs have ended.
Another 4,000 families are slated for relocation to the same farm.
Maguwu of the Center for Research and Development says Arda Transau is not big enough to accommodate those 25,000 people, let alone give them enough land.
Two smaller companies operating in the Marange mining zone, Pure Diamonds and Marange Resources, will soon initiate relocations of their own.
The New Reclamation Group, which holds a 50% stake in Mbada, has a video on its Web site that portrays its treatment of Marange residents in a different light than the residents themselves. “The people of Marange have been aided to the tune of $2.5 million US," it declares. The video shows residents receiving food aid and says Mbada has given relocated residents food and farming inputs and planted trees.
But Marange residents are demanding sustainable benefits such as jobs or shares in the mining company. Local councilor Tichafara Kusena observed that the mining companies never consult the community about needs when providing aid - for instance donating unneeded exercise books to a school that was desperate for text books.
Kusena said the people of Marange are losing hope of ever benefiting from diamonds.
“The general feeling is that we are not going to benefit ... because those who are supposed to benefit, those who are directly affected ... are are being relocated to Arda Transau, which is far away from the mining companies,” Kusena said.
“They are being relocated without even employment, being relocated without even compensation, being relocated without even any benefit," he continued.
"What can we expect? We are not going to benefit.”
Meanwhile, international attention has dwindled since 2009 when massive human rights abuses came to light. Rights activists say only large scale violence would boost pressure on Harare to institute reforms in Marange.
Human rights advocates also worry that the Kimberley Process has become a toothless watchdog under its new chairman, Mathieu Yamba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose unilateral rulings and declarations have grossly favored the Zimbabwean government and those extracting immense wealth from the Marange field.
Far from that diamond trove, Marange people in Arda Transau face an uncertain future.
“Most people are actually starving,” the resident relocated by Anjin told VOA.
“They don’t know where the diamond money is going. Maybe some people in Harare, maybe the minister of mines knows better.”