Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Billion Dollar Diamond Fields, Basins and Politicized Economic Blueprints

By Takura Zhangazha*

In a lead story that appeared in a local weekly , Deputy Minister of Mines Mr. Fred Moyo  was reported as confirming that there has been a somewhat recent discovery of a potentially vast diamond fields stretching from East to south Eastern Zimbabwe.  These fields are thought to be the equivalent to the size of one of our SADC neighbours, Swaziland.  They have also already been placed in what the deputy minster referred to as the as Umkondo Basin. 

Admittedly, revelations of such a profound nature and potential economic impact for the country, must be taken very seriously. Both by the government and all Zimbabwean citizens.  Especially where it relates to our perennial political and economic controversy that is diamond mining.

As it has turned out, it’s a revelation that appears more intended to promote government’s  ZimAsset programme, before any tangible measurement of either the extent of diamond or other mineral deposits therein or any effective development of a state minerals exploration company

Furthermore, the immediate reference to the diamond mining companies already in Chimanimani as probably getting first preference in relation to exploration indicates that the government is acquiring its information from the same corporations. 

While the news story has a rather sensational headline, ‘Billion dollar Diamond Fields’, it does alert us to a number of matters concerning our governments attitude toward mining, minerals exploration and economic progress.

Key among these would be that the government is seeking to claim economic success on the basis of speculation or unmeasured potential.  And sensationally so.  This is regardless of the fact that prior to the cited interview given  by Ministry of Mines officials,  it has been in the public domain that there has been unexplained diamond explorations in Bikita which falls in the same Umkondo Basin. 

Add to this the unaccounted for diamond mining in Marange and there is enough evidence that the problem lies deeper than claims of the discovery of new ‘billion dollar diamond fields’.  It then becomes a question not of ‘lessons learned’ but ‘problems unaddressed’.

Desperation to make ZimAsset a success on the part of government should not be allowed to cloud real issues. Let alone to make sensationalist claims to the media without outlining either a comprehensive plan with a specific time frame. Or at least a socio-economic assessment of what any such diamond exploration in the Umkondo Basin will have on peoples’ lives. Both in the regions in question as well as nationally. 

What also comes into view and question is the nature of the relationship between the government and the mining corporations that have tended to know the country’s minerals resources more than the former.  An important question would be the extent to which the government intends to set the pace of both exploration and eventual mining.

This being done without falling victim to the desperation it has exhibited in order to makes its economic blueprint, ZimAsset, palatable to the people of Zimbabwe.  As is tragically the case with the Chiadzwa diamond fields, government and the people of Zimbabwe are the ones who have been led and shortchanged by mining company interests.

And as always, this begins with exploration as was the case with De Beers which has been accused by government of dishonesty about what it knew.  Naturally the government might be smarter or less complicit in aiding secretive private mineral exploration its leverage is however limited to that elephant in the room called ‘investment and technology’.  Both of which the government is having a hard time acquiring. 

A final and even  more important perspective to the Umkondo Basin sensational announcement is that it does not explain the issue of what the import is for the millions of people who live in it. Particularly the majority of those who live in its rural areas.  Both in the short and long term. 

It is inadequate to generalize about the ‘nation’ when one has talked about a basin the size of Swaziland in which not only mining becomes a significant factor but the dramatic changes that will be seen occurring to peoples livelihoods. That is, from mainly subsistence and semi-commercial farming to having potential monoliths of mines with attendant  changes to environmental and even political landscapes.  

These are phenomenal considerations that the Mining ministry officials’  reported comments in the media initially do not seem to be cognizant of.  In fact, it may be a case of an underestimation of the serious import of such a national matter for the purposes of ill contrived political expediency.

If the Mines ministry was seeking to come across as organized and honest as regards the immediate past of repressive, disorganized exploration and extractive mining of diamonds in the region, such statements  attributed to it do not help its intentions.  And given such evident political expediency, we are obliged to ask the question, ‘what came first,  ZimAsset or the Umkondo Basin?’

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takrua-zhangazha.blogspot.com)