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Zimbabwe NGOs Praise Controversial Marange Diamond Infrastructure, But Questions Remain

Several groups and members of the media were able to explore the diamond mining fields, which have been a no-go zone since coming under control of the military in 2008

After visiting the controversial Marange diamond fields for the first time Wednesday, Zimbabwean non-governmental organizations expressed satisfaction at what they called state-of-the-art infrastructure and security systems guarding the area - but said they still had unanswered questions over the handling of proceeds and human rights issues.

Several groups affiliated to the National Association of Non-governmental Organizations, other civil society groups, and members of the private and public media, were able to explore the mining area which has been a no-go zone since coming under control of the military in 2008.

Director of the Center for Research and Development Farai Maguwu, who has consistently campaigned for the protection of human rights in Marange, told VOA's Violet Gonda the visit was “very technical” and that the touring group was not given the opportunity to speak to affected communities or artisanal miners.

They only managed to inspect the process of production, he said.

The fiery diamond activist said there was general satisfaction following the visit that Harare seemed to meet the minimum standards required by the diamond watchdog, the Kimberley Process, in terms of security, safety, health and transparency within the production chain in Marange.

“We were impressed with the infrastructure and the security in place,” said Maguwu, “but we would be happier if it’s realized that the accelerated production we witnessed is translated into revenue collection by central government, and translate into material wealth for Zimbabweans.”

He said while their brief was only to assess the mining operations at the four concessions, human rights still remain an important issue.

Although some families have been relocated and conditions improved significantly for them, Maguwu said scores of other families still live in “prison-like conditions”.

The activist observed: "These families have to be relocated as a matter of urgency because there are families still living in the diamond fields that are fenced, and some of the homesteads have been partitioned - part of the homesteads now belong to Mbada diamonds and another section of the homestead now belongs to Marange Resources.

“Given that the diamond fields have become a high security area, it is no longer safe for these people to live there; it becomes kind of an open prison where they no longer have the freedom of movement and freedom of association.”

Maguwu said there are about 300 Chinese nationals working at the Anjin plant and a big number of Lebanese nationals working at the Diamond Mining Corporation. The group said they were surprised to see that the people who addressed them were predominantly Lebanese nationals, who seemed to be in total control

The civic groups will soon meet with Mines Minister Obert Mpofu to discuss their findings and concerns. They are also expected to submit a report to the Kimberley Process at a meeting in the U.S. in June.

Meanwhile a NewsDay reporter covering the Marange tour was detained by security after he was found in possession of a stone believed to be a diamond.

Moses Matenga was early Thursday handed over to the Zimbabwe Republic Police's Criminal Investigations Department in Mutare, who were said to be carrying out further investigations.

Editor-in-Chief Vincent Kahiya of Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of the newspaper, declined to comment.

But a statement posted in the NewsDay quoted him as saying the journalist had been thoroughly briefed and cautioned by his superiors about security arrangements at the mining fields before the tour.