State security agents have sealed off diamond mining fields in Manicaland province following an order by the government for most companies to shut down after they failed to register and join a proposed national company. Indications are that several illegal miners have been arrested amid reports that some have also been killed by the police.
Marange villager, Malvern Mudiwa, who is also chairperson of the local people’s representative grouping, Marange Development Trust, told Studio 7 the closure of diamond mining firms last week has created some problems for the community after security agents sealed off the mining fields.
Mudiwa said a large number of villagers have been arrested for illegally mining diamonds while several others have been beaten up by police for visiting the mining areas without state authority.
He said there were unconfirmed reports that some people have died in the hands of the police. Mudiwa identified one of the people who was severely assaulted by the state security agents as Fungai Ziduche.
Police in Mutare declined to comment and referred all questions to police headquarters in Harare. The current conflict has reminded villagers of skirmishes between local people and the police a couple of years ago when the government started showing interest in the diamond fields.
Several people were killed and others injured and displaced following accusations that they were mining diamonds illegally and selling it in the black market.
James Mupfumi of the Centre for Research and Development, an organization with some interest in the extractive sector and human rights issues, said government’s intervention last week was long overdue.
Mupfumi said, “The operations of the diamond mining firms were fraudulent and born out of capacity and their activities for the past 10 years were alien to the community of Marange and the citizen in general.”
Mupfumi urged state security agents not to use excessive force when dealing with illegal diamond miners.
Mupfumi also said, “Human rights abuses in Marange have been ongoing either at the behest of companies or state security agents and we encourage the police in the area to exercise diligence in handling such cases. We also urge members of the community to avoid being caught up on the wrong side of the law by avoiding illegal entries in the protected area.”
President Robert Mugabe recently admitted for the first time that the government has not benefited much from the gems in the past 10 years.
Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, once indicated that diamond proceeds were not trickling into the national fiscus. These remarks drew scorn from President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.