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Slave-labourers dig Zimbabwe's blood-diamonds

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 22, 2009 in Business
IRIN news reports from Mutare in Zimbabwe that the vast Chiadzwa diamond fields have been taken over by the military -and they now force Marange villagers to dig out the tiny diamonds at gunpoint. Dealers warn Zimbabwe is now producing blood-diamonds.
The Chiadzwa diamond diggings, some 90km southwest of Zimbabwe's diamond-boom town of Mutare, have come to resemble a military garrison, IRIN news reports. Police reportedly shot and killed as many as 50 informal diamond diggers in the two-month raid, allegedly termed "Operation No Return".
And Bulawayo diamond dealer Erich Block also warns that these slave-labour conditions under which the Chiadzwa diamonds now are produced under control of the Zimbabwean military, also means that such diamonds could be labelled as 'blood- or conflict-diamonds' and could be struck of the Kimberley Press register of diamond-exporting countries, set up to stop the trade of blood-diamonds.
Also see the report by Global Witness
Local villagers told IRIN news that they are facing starvation because they can't tend to their crops this planting season -- they instead have been pressed into slave-labour, digging for the region's very tiny diamonds in the fields where the Zimbabwe military has set up garrison tents. The villagers have to work from dawn to dusk at gunpoint by the Zimbabwe military. see
Over the past month, thousands of the previous informal miners, many of whom had grown rich from the diggings, were evicted by the police and the military. Mugabe's police and military swooped down on the diamond-diggings and evicted the informal miners with considerable force. They were even machine-gunned from helicopters and chased from the impromptu holes and tunnels with gas. It's not known how many people died in these raids.
The Chiadzwa diamonds are very small, and usually only earn a few hundred dollars for a handful.
See video
Once the informal miners -- many were unemployed teachers and other public servants -- the soldiers pressed the local villagers of Marange into service as slave-labour gangs.
Military tents now are sited throughout the fields, armed soldiers patrol the entire region and search the villagers' homes at night for 'stolen' diamonds. The state-owned diamond fields were claimed by Mugabe's wife Grace, who says they are her property.
A resident of Marange village, where the mine is situated, said the soldiers have enlisted them for slave labour with a duty roster. "We are supposed to report to them early in the morning to dig for the diamonds from Chiadzwa," said the villager, who dared to identify himself only as Simon.
Just filling in the pits...
"When we get to the diamond field, we are always reminded that if anyone asks what we are doing there, we should tell that person that we are filling the pits that were left by the makorokoza (the informal miners)," Simon said.
The villagers don't get paid. From dusk to dawn, they are forced to dig for diamonds in the numerous existing pits and also to excavate new ones. "We are too scared to report this form of forced labour because the soldiers who are camped at Chiadzwa have warned us that top army officers are involved and if we leak the information, soldiers will be sent to beat us up."
Slave labour:
The forced labour lasts from dawn to dusk, so Simon cannot tend his fields. "We experienced famine and untold hunger last year, when the harvest failed. The rains are better this year. However now some people have decided to turn us into cheap labour for their own gain," he said.
However at least one man is not a slave labourer but one of the evicted informal miners: Bright Tigere, 24, a Mutare resident originally from Marange village, said he'd voluntarily returned to offer his services - saying that the soldiers at times give him some diamonds 'as bribes'.
"I heard that the soldiers were forcing people to pan for the diamonds and decided to return to my village so that I would be one of the people participating," he told IRIN news.
"Once in a while the soldiers give us some diamonds to bribe us and I am selling them for my upkeep," said Tigere. Before the eviction, he had a luxury lifestyle. He used to cross regularly to Musina in neighbouring South Africa, to sell the diamonds and go shopping.
Nearby Mutare ws in the middle of a diamond-boom because of the informal diamond diggings. However, IRIN news reports, the town now is sinking back into poverty. The expensive cars of diamond dealers that in November last year still travelled Mutare's streets have disappeared, shops have become deserted and there are few currency dealers.
"It was from rags to riches and back to rags again, and that is painful,' said Tigere.
"That is why I am more than ready to return and be used by the soldiers because, at least, I am guaranteed food on the table," he added.
The soldiers, easily identified in the shebeens and taverns by their uniforms and the assault rifles slung across their backs, see their tour of duty in the diamond fields as a privilege.
"I am happy to be among the soldiers who were chosen to come here to Chiadzwa even though, initially, I resented the assignment because we were not given a chance to even say goodbye to our families," one soldier, who declined to be identified, told IRIN at a shopping centre.
"As a soldier, just like most people in this country, I am poorly paid and my salary can hardly see me through three days of a month. When I get a chance to loot, I grab it without hesitation. I am sick and tired of the top guys being the only ones with all the riches, even though it's us who do the dirty work," he said.
Diamonds sold in Harare,or Nairobi - to Indian traders
The soldier said he frequently applied for leave and would go to the capital, Harare, to sell the diamonds.
"Our superiors back in the barracks are fully aware of what we are doing, and they let us continue because they benefit from this illegal mining of the diamonds," he said. "Every week, we surrender a substantial amount of the mineral to them."
One of his commanders, he said, had good connections with dealers in India and often travelled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to meet with middlemen. "Word coming from Harare is that it is easy to sell the diamonds in India, where they are polished and used in making ornaments."
There have been reports that Chiadzwa's diamonds have also turned up in Lebanon, Russia and South Africa.
A Bulawayo-based economist, Erich Bloch, said the described involvement of soldiers in Chiadzwa would increase the chances of the country being struck off the Kimberley Process register of diamond exporting countries - as 'blood- or conflict- diamonds'. The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme designed to prevent diamonds mined in conflict areas from entering the multi billion-dollar market.
"If the troops are actually looting the diamonds, and given the adverse reports of their presence at Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe could soon be blacklisted by Kimberly Process," Bloch told IRIN-news.
Soldiers have no business at a diamond field...
In late 2008, international civil society, led by a non-governmental organisation, Global Witness, launched the campaign to set up the Kimberley Process. It has already begun lobbying for an urgent inquiry into Zimbabwe's diamond industry. "Soldiers have no business at a diamond field. The government should just act quickly to ensure that a reputable company moves in to do the mining," a Harare-based economic consultant, John Robertson, said. see video about how blood diamonds are dug up
"It is reasonable to suspect that the government is using the illicit mining of diamonds to fund an already disgruntled army," he said. "It is highly possible that government officials are fattening their pockets using the Chiadzwa diamonds."
More about Blood diamonds, Conflict diamonds, Chiadzwa, Zimbabwe, Mugabe
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