Diamond revenue: A den of reptiles


WITH great respect to Nyanga, Victoria Falls is easily and overwhelmingly the most beautiful place on the continent.

They do not call it the Seventh Wonder of the World for nothing.

For locals in Victoria Falls, they watch in awe as millions of tourists pour in every day.

These foreigners take over the place, consume the beauty of that majestic waterfall and enjoy the brutal beauty of our brutal big five.

They do crazy things like jump with legs tied, arms stretched into the heartbeat of the screaming Zambezi. They call this form of insanity bungee jumping.

Then there are those that plunge into the teeth of the Zambezi, with its swirls and shark-like waves dwarfing the enormity of the gorges, on little pieces of curved wood.

They call this type of madness, and I tell you it’s surreal madness, white water rafting.

Then there are dinghies and big boats that glide like the sulking ghost of Hamlet on the Zambezi.

There they sip what they call Zambezi cocktails while chewing the famous Zambezi kapenta.

The local wananchi (the public) call them matemba.

Then there is the night life. The less said the better.

But underneath the skin of this super-rich resort, in one of the world’s wonder spots, they will not tell you of a huge population with houses without power installations or water.

The irony is that Hwange is only 100km away and endless Zambezi water a few metres away.

They will not tell you of some of the deep indigence in those townships and the fact that in terms of extreme poverty, Matebeland North is Zimbabwe’s poorest province.

Take away the Falls from this vast piece of land, you are left with Binga, Nkayi and Lupane’s desert-like constructions, long abandoned by both Rhodies and their post-independence successors.

So in this land of poverty and underdevelopment, how does a councillor from the people’s movement wake up one morning and give his vote to Zanu PF?

It is a construction of such farcical proportions, another wonder of the world in its own right.

But these are the times when poverty is accelerating while the super-rich grow. The country’s gene coefficient, the measure of the gap between the rich and the poor continues to rise sharply.

So patronage, corruption and survival become more important than democracy. In gate keeping states, access to the State and its organs is so key, for the State is an arena of personal accumulation and aggrandisement.

One thing that has distorted the moral triangle of this country is diamonds and diamond money.

The country’s diamonds have acquired such notoriety for all the wrong reasons — corruption, arbitrage, rent and opaqueness.

Without a doubt, therefore, the new Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa owes Zimbabweans a duty of care in ensuring a fundamental paradigm shift in the management of our diamonds in this country.

His biggest task is to understand fully, then destroy the infrastructure of diamond arbitrage controlled by a local and international mafia whose bases range from Zimbabwe to Beijing via Israel and Lebanon.

He must be warned that he will be dealing with a mafia that is militarised, vicious and uncompromising.

As he digs deeper, if he is bold enough, he will come across layers and layers of intricate mendacity.

When he gets closer to the heart of the matter, if he is still alive, he will be shocked by the names he will unearth.

At that stage, even he will have to give up. Water does not go up a mountain.

The removal at the insistence of Belgium of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) from the European Union (EU) sanctions list takes away from the mafia one powerful tool that they have always used.

The EU list has been used over the years as justification for the opaqueness that presently exists.

I realised this many years ago and, in fact — given the extent of the massive loot — demanded ZMDC’s liberation from that list.

The question is: Will things now change? I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

What would be critical for Chidhakwa would be to ensure that he puts in place a sustainable framework for diamond mining in Zimbabwe.

Firstly, a Diamond Act is long overdue in Zimbabwe that must delink diamonds from both the Precious Minerals Act as well the Mines and Minerals Act.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mines, even in this era of depressed commodity prices, can earn this country a modest $3 billion if properly managed.

The thing is, through deliberate omissions and commissions, there is a diamond crisis in this crises. Diamonds played a pernicious role in the July 31 election in Zimbabwe.

They continue to play that role and will play that role in future, particularly given Zanu PF’s inevitable succession wars.

To avoid a resource curse and ensure Zimbabwe is liberated from the chaos associated with alluvial diamonds wherever they are found on the African continent, there must be rethinking.

Chidhakwa will try.

But like some of us, he will discover that this is an entirely closed and privatised area. An absolute den of reptiles. Good luck.

 Tendai Biti is former Finance minister and MDC-T secretary-general