Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday toured the controversial Marange diamond fields for the first time since operations there commenced, declaring the country desperately needs revenue from mining firms to fund government projects.
Mr. Tsvangirai was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and a number of ministers from the national unity government, including the finance and mines ministers, Tendai Biti and Obert Mpofu, respectively.
Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters Harare is desperate for revenue from the joint mining ventures in Marange, adding he was satisfied with what he saw in terms of operations.
Zimbabwe says it expects to rake in $600 million from diamond sales this year.
"You are aware that the government needs resources, and we regard diamond revenue as a major contributor to the fiscus," Mr. Tsvangirai said.
"We hope that as we appreciate the operations, government is able to formulate policies that will contribute largely to the fiscus."
Mr. Tsvangirai’s tour came amid reports representatives of civil society groups with a monitoring brief from the Kimberly Process have been blocked from visiting the field.
Mr. Tsvangirai’s office had previously charged that he was being blocked from visiting Marange. But Thursday his spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said the reports were not true. He says Mr. Tsvangirai was happy with the tour, but insisted that the mineral wealth would be meaningless if the proceeds did not go to change the lives of many struggling Zimbabweans, in particular low paid state workers.
Harare is struggling to increase salaries for its workers, who staged stay-away protests last month to push for a doubling of their wages and improved working conditions.
Mpofu said Mr. Tsvangirai was impressed with operations in Marange.
"Just yesterday I got a report from DMC (Diamond Mining Company) that they have sold in excess of $30 million since they were approved two weeks ago," he said.
Research Director Allan Martin of Partnership Africa Canada says Mr. Tsvangirai’s visit to the diamond field is a step in the right direction that may lead to increased transparency there.
All the firms in Marange are jointly owned by Harare and foreign investors.
On Friday the prime minister will visit the Arda Transau farm in Manicaland province where residents from Marange have been resettled but are unhappy.
Meanwhile, international human rights watchdog Global Witness has alleged that the directors of one of the largest companies mining diamonds in Marange are active or retired members of the military and police, voicing the concern that funds flowing illegitimately from Marange could finance violence in the next elections.
The report says that since the army took over the alluvial field in 2008, concessions have been awarded to companies under questionable circumstances.
Global Witness profiles Anjin Investments, a joint venture between an obscure Zimbabwean firm called Matt Bronze and the Chinese company. Global Witness says Anjin’s Zimbabwean board members include top military, and police officers.
The report says a 25 percent stake in Mbada diamonds has been given to a company linked to Air Vice Marshal Robert Mhlanga, reported to be President Robert Mugabe’s former personal pilot, which has an opaque company structure.
Global Witness spokesman Mike Davis told VOA reporter Violet Gonda that Zimbabwe desperately needs diamond revenues for essential services, but should not be used as a cash cow by ZANU-PF loyalists in the military and police. He said such diversions of diamond wealth increase the risk diamond revenues will fund political violence.
Deputy Mines Minister Gift Chimanikire of the Tsvangirai-led MDC declined to comment, saying this would amount to interfering in military matters which are the business of Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who, he said is patron of the military-related companies operating in the Marange field.
Mpofu said Global Witness does not want Zimbabwe to benefit from its own resources. “Which law says people in the military are not supposed to be directors of a company? Even in the United States most military men are actually running companies. We know that. Why do they think they should prescribe things for us?” Mpofu said.
Farai Maguwu, director of the Center for Research and Development in Mutare, capital of Manicaland and close to the Marange field, says the government should make public the identities of the directors and officers of the companies operating in Marange.
“That information has never been made public and hence our calls for greater transparency and accountability.” Maguwu said. “State security agents should not be involved in mining activities. I think their mandate is to ensure the security of the state.”