By Takura Zhangazha*
The Zimbabwean Deputy Mines and Mining Development Minister, Mr. Gift Chaminikire in statements attributed to him in the media recently confirmed that there has been diamond exploration and possible mining in Chief Budzi’s area in rural Bikita. This is something that had been reported in early 2012 in the provincial weekly newspaper, the Masvingo Mirror. It has taken more than a year for a senior government official to fully publicly acknowledge this but at least we now know that there are companies that have begun diamond exploration and possibly mining in the area adjacent to the Devure river and close to the Save Conservancy.
There is also further acknowledgement that the companies that are said to be operating in this area may not have been licensed by government to do so, an issue that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Particularly where one reads in the press that there has most definitely been some sort of mining taking place through a Chinese company Nan Jiang Africa Resources Limited. It is also a matter that requires both central and local government explanation not only to the residents of that particular part of Bikita but also to all Zimbabweans.
Given the precedence of the unfortunate chaos and violence that informed the initial diamond mining in Marange (Manicaland), it is important that we ensure that Bikita is not a repeat of the same, even if the diamonds in question are reportedly kimberlitic and not alluvial ones. I emphasize this primarily because all indications are that had the diamond discovery been of alluvial ones, the lackadaisical and secretive government disposition toward this matter would have led to a serious disaster in Bikita. Further still, the fact that this diamond find has not been as chaotic as Marange for now does not make it any less important in relation to how government and the mining companies are going to relate with the entire community that lives in Bikita district.
This point is of fundamental importance because either way, now that diamonds have been ‘discovered’ in Bikita, they will inevitably be mined by one company or the other. It therefore becomes a matter of what sort of framework will be used to allow the mine to operate in a sustainable and social democratic fashion in the district. In essence what is required is a social democratic model over and about the diamond find as well as any mining company that government grants an operating licence to. This model would entail a number of key points and considerations.
Firstly that the government through the Ministry of Mines must re-tender the mining licence publicly and transparently in the interests of accountability. The fact that there is a mining company operating in what are for now reportedly unclear circumstances in the area means that something was not done transparently and as a result thereof, the whole mining license issue must be revisited.
Secondly both central and local government must explain to the residents of Bikita district the full implications of this diamond discovery with the full intentions of democratically integrating them into any mining plans that will be considered from the companies that will apply for mining licences. This would be in relation to the prioritization of employment for the residents of Bikita, the linking of the mineral license with specific development of the area such as rural electrification, expansion of public transport, expansion of health services and education, access to clean and safe water, safety and security as well as the provision for a safe and sustainable natural environment management plan. In this, where there is need for the state to invoke its ownership of the communal land, it must not do so in a manner akin to the Chiadzwa tragedy where hundreds of families were forcibly relocated to a state farm hundreds of kilometers away.
Any relocation plan must be democratically arrived at with the specific option of first ensuring that the residents of that part of Bikita district are allowed to stay and work for the mine with specific residential stands allocated to them within the vicinity of the mine and as far as is practically possible. Simultaneously there must be protection of the heritage and history of Bikita through not only ensuring environmentally friendly mining of the kimberlite diamonds but also keeping sites such as the Chibvumani ruins out of the scope of any mining activities and exploration.
If these issues are taken into account and if in effect any diamond mining activities in Bikita are undertaken within a social democratic context, a progressive model for application nationally will come into being. While it is inevitable that a mineral resource such as diamonds remains one that will cause radical changes to the area in which they have been discovered, these same said changes need not be elitist or undemocratic in form and intent. The Bikita diamond discovery presents an opportunity for the government of Zimbabwe, to do the right thing by the residents of Bikita and the entirety of the Zimbabwean citizenry. It must undertake a social democratic and people centered approach.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)