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Kimberley Process In Turmoil As South Africa Approves Zimbabwe Diamonds

South African Mineral Resources Ministry spokesman Musa Zondi said Pretoria's position matches that of Kimberly Chairman Matthieu Yamba, who has declared that Zimbabwe can freely sell its diamonds, 'so there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be sold on an open market'

In a new blow to the credibility of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the South African Ministry of Mineral Resources has said the country will accept rough stones from Zimbabwe's controversial Marange field in the absence of a Kimberley consensus.

Musa Zondi, spokesman for South African Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, said Pretoria's position is the same as that of Kimberly Chairman Matthieu Yamba, who has issued a statement saying Zimbabwe can freely sell its diamonds, "so there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be sold on an open market.”

But Yamba's declaration in March saying Zimbabwe could sell Marange diamonds with no Kimberley oversight has driven a wedge between factions in the watchdog group.

Research Director Alan Martin of Partnership Africa Canada, a Kimberley Process civil society observer, said that if confirmed, South Africa's decision to accept Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds would further damage the image of the Kimberley Process.

He said there was never a consensus among Kimberley participants as to whether or not Zimbabwe had met Kimberley standards, pointing out Yamba, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, had “overstepped his mandate” issuing the statement giving a green light.

So, Martin said, South Africa should not base its decision on Yamba's directive.

A Kimberley Administrative Decision from November 2010 states that "the Chair represents the collective will of the Participants."

“There was no collective will,” Martin said. “There was no consensus coming out of (the Kimberly meeting in) Jerusalem, and therefore there was no way that the KP chair or Minister Shabangu can declare these diamonds to be compliant" with KP standards.

Martin said Pretoria's decision was “tragic” would further damage Kimberley credibility, particularly as South Africa was the founding chair of the organization.

But Zondi said Shabangu also decided to open up South Africa to Zimbabwe’s diamonds due to economic considerations, citing a shortage of diamonds among small cutters and polishers. He said he could not divulge the quantity of Marange diamonds which had been shipped to South African buyers since the ministry's decision in the matter.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu asserted Zimbabwe's right to sell Marange diamonds freely, adding the country has met Kimberley requirements to mine and sell its gems.

“We are certified by KPCS to sell,” Mpofu said. “That’s why Murowa [mine] is exporting, River Ranch [mine] is exporting, Marange is exporting."

Martin said if South Africa is serious about importing Marange diamonds, there could be consequences because others involved in the supply chain might not want to bear the responsibility that comes with marketing the controversial gems.

“That puts a lot of pressure on De Beers and some of the bigger companies, but more importantly it puts a lot of pressure on the big trading companies in India,” he said.

Martin dismissed Zondi's argument that rough stones are in short supply, calling this a "smokescreen for the fact that people in industry are putting greed above decency.”

Farai Maguwu, director of the Center for Research and Development in Mutare, near the Marange field, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that he believes the South African government will not back the Mineral Resources Ministry's decision.

Maguwu said if Kimberley allows Zimbabwe to sell rough stones from Marange without supervision, it would have failed in its mission. “Issues of human rights abuses continue unabated. The smuggling of diamonds still continues,” Maguwu charged.

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