Some villagers in the diamond-rich Manicaland province, are vowing to continue looking for the gems even if they are being given a torrid time by state security agents that have sealed off mining areas following a government order for companies to cease operations after they failed to register on time and being part of a state-run diamond mining entity.
They claim that illegal diamond mining is the only way of making a livelihood in province hit by an El-Nino induced drought.
Villagers facing serious food shortages in Chiadzwa communal lands, Muchena, Hot Springs, Tonhorai, Chakohwa and Bambazonke in Marange area say they will not stop illegal mining activities as they are failing to cater for the needs of their families due to the current drought.
They say to make matters worse, they have not benefited from diamonds sales ever since foreign and local mining companies started their operations in Manicaland province. Most of the villagers claim that they are not gainfully employed.
The diamond mining fields now almost resemble a war zone as villagers are constantly detained by state security agents and mining company guards, who normally arrest and torture them.
The villagers claim that some of them, including former workers of some of the shutdown diamond mines, have even been hospitalized following serious beatings by law enforcing agents.
Richard Goto, a former worker at one of the closed diamond mining firms, says poverty is driving most people to engage in illegal diamond mining.
According to Goto, people caught in the diamond fields are normally given a hard time by the police, members of the Zimbabwe National Army and private security guards.
“General poverty is leading people to go into the diamond fields including the economic situation in the country … Police in there are treating people roughly and how they are doing it is really unfair.”
An illegal miner, Lewis Rwizi, says he was recently detained by the police together with 30 other people after they went into a protected mining area.
“When we were caught by the Police Support Unit we were made to stay in the hot sun the whole day without being given water. We were also made to jog around none stop and to sing all night.”
Rwizi claims that they were released the following night after being beaten up and tortured by the police.
“They later released us the following day but we spent the whole night doing all the activities, singing, jogging, press-ups and a lot of other hard things any human being can be made to do.
Unemployed Fungai Mutunhu of Muchena Village in Chiadzwa area says illegal diamond mining is the only way of eking out a living.
“The fact is that poverty is the most leading factor for people like myself to encroach into the mines, especially with the drought; we are facing more problems and life is very hard for people in this area especially for people in Bocha, Chakohwa where there has not been any harvest and the only income comes from the diamond sales we have to mine in the fields.
Mutunhu says state security agents at times set dogs on them, resulting in some villagers suffering serious injuries.
“When caught, people are brutally beaten by the security people and dogs are set on them as well and are mauled and when taken to a place called Diamond Base there is further abuses and many people get seriously injured in the process of these abuses.”
Mutunhu adds that they will continue engaging in illegal activities as long as they are not guaranteed benefits from diamond sales.
“The most effective way to stop this is to set aside a place or claim where the local people can do their official mining, because besides that this problem of illegal diamond mining will continue unabated.”
Police refused to comment on the illegal diamond mining activities in Manicaland province. Executives, whose firms were forced by the government to stop diamond operations in the region, were not reachable for comment.
President Robert Mugabe said last week his government won’t reverse its decision to stop operations of private diamond mining companies saying Zimbabwe has lost up to $15 billion in diamond revenues.
He said the state has only received $2 billion since the companies started operating in Manicaland province a couple of years ago.
Independent diamond monitors and opposition parties have over the years warned government that it is losing millions of dollars per month in potential diamond revenue due to lack of transparency in the mining and selling of the gems.