The discovery of diamonds in foreign currency starved Zimbabwe is fast transforming into a curse, and with the gem sector making great strides towards policing itself, the country risks being blacklisted as a source of legitimate diamonds.
Washington-based World Diamond Council (WDC) has expressed concern at reports that rough diamonds from Zimbabwe are being smuggled into neighbouring South Africa and blended with “blood diamonds” from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for onward sale into the world market under fraudulent certification of origin, a council statement said.
Such certification is provided for under the Kimberly Process to assure that diamonds are not coming from areas in conflict and that proceeds will not go to fund warfare and human rights abuses.
While Zimbabwe is not a war zone, it is a signatory to the Kimberley Process, established in 2002 to certify diamonds originating from sources that are free of conflict or rights abuses.
Legitimate export of gems – the end for Zimbabwe?
WDC Chairman Eli Izhakoff said in a statement that “such illegal exportation presents a clear threat to the integrity of the legitimate export process as a whole” and urged nations who are signatory to the accord “to act swiftly and in unison, to resolve this situation and protect the legitimate and law abiding industry.”
Izhakoff’s organisation has launched an international probe into Zimbabwe’s diamonds, which will focus on gems from a mine near the southern town of Beitbridge whose ownership is in dispute, and diamonds from Marange in eastern Zimbabwe, where massive illegal mining and smuggling has been unveiled.
In late November, the Zimbabwean government faced accusations of using security forces to seize the Marange industrial diamond mine in violation of a high court order supporting the claim of British-based African Consolidated Resources to rightful ownership of the mine.
Beitbridge’s Bubye mine is currently a centre of an ownership wrangle in which a group led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband of vice president Joyce Mujuru, has seized the mine and renamed it River Ranch Mine.
The group is accused of exporting the gems in violation of court orders and without proper certification.
Izhakoff has since written to the new chair of the Kimberley Process, European Commission official Karel Kovanda, expressing concern over the smuggling of rough diamonds from Marange and River Ranch and stressing that all rough diamond exports from Zimbabwe and the DRC should be suspended pending further scrutiny.
Illegal exports of gems present a threat to integrity of the whole export process
“While remaining mindful of Zimbabwe’s membership of the Kimberley Process nations, such illegal exports present a clear threat to the integrity of the legitimate export process as a whole. In addition, we have heard that the River Ranch diamonds are being mixed with production from the DRC. We appeal to the chair and participant nations of the Kimberley Process to act swiftly and in unison, to resolve this situation and protect the legitimate and law-abiding industry,” said the letter, a copy of which is with Mineweb, which also called on the government of DRC, South Africa and Zimbabwe to ensure that illicit diamonds are not being exported under the certification process.
The letter added: “We appeal to all rough diamond importing countries to carry out appropriate inspections of all parcels of rough diamonds emanating from Southern Africa to ensure that they do not contain Zimbabwean and Congolese production.”
The European Commission has requested that Zimbabwe updates it on the allegations and has urged the WDC to share information on abuses in Zimbabwe and the impact of such abuses on neighbouring countries.
Independent reports from Zimbabwe say concerns circulating in government circles are that this new probe would give the country’s European Union critics fresh ammunition for use in a campaign for renewed sanctions against members of President Robert Mugabe’s regime
The government claims that it has built a tight security cordon around Marange and has arrested over 19,000 illegal miners in a bid to halt the illegal trade in diamonds.
Zimbabwe is said to have informed the Kimberley Process Plenary Session last November in Botswana, that it was experiencing problems emanating from the Marange diamond rush following the discovery in June.
But senior ruling ZANU-PF politicians, intent on consolidating their hold on the poor, had given villagers from the area the go-ahead to mine and swamp the area.
African Consolidated Resources is currently trying to figure out how many carats of diamonds were extracted by over 16,000 illegal miners who thronged Marange at the height of the diamond rush.
No official output data is available from River Ranch, but it is understood that the mine’s sales have the potential of peaking at US$20 million per year.