The government’s controversial decision this week to seize all of the country’s diamond mines is backfiring spectacularly, amid revelations that hundreds of illegal panners have already invaded the gem-rich Marange fields in Manicaland as an unintended consequence — creating total chaos in the area.
At the same time, well-placed Zanu PF insiders told the Daily News yesterday that the State’s much-maligned move and strategy was also closely linked to the seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars ravaging President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party.
Economic experts have already warned that the decision to expropriate the mines — premised on the claims that many of the firms operating in the sector were allegedly unlicenced and that they had spurned offers to merge under the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) — will have a dire effect on foreign direct investment and the country’s dying economy.
The Daily News’ sources said last night that the government’s move, announced by Mines minister Walter Chidakwa on Monday, “had little to do with making sure that the majority of Zimbabweans benefit from the gems, but that a faction linked to embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa did not have access” to resources as the battle to succeed the 92-year-old leader intensifies.
“The war has moved to Chiadzwa comrade. There is widespread belief in the party that Chidakwa’s move is meant to starve Team Lacoste of funds as there is talk that some of the diamond mines are allegedly acting as slash funds for the faction.
“Unfortunately, in doing this, many innocent players are being caught up in the war, to the ultimate detriment of the country,” one of the sources said.
Meanwhile, and barely 24 hours after Chidakwa’s edict, pandemonium broke out in the lucrative Marange fields — with artisanal miners (commonly referred to as makorokoza in Shona) invading the area.
The panners had been circling the area like vultures since it became apparent that the government and the mining companies were headed for conflict — and duly took advantage of Monday’s announcement and the lax mine security that followed the decree.
This came after police, acting on the apparent state instruction, cordoned off the area and premises of private miners — thus disabling, and undoing all the security apparatus in place.
“Now we are back to the days of lawlessness in the Chiadzwa area. All security systems have been removed,” an official at one of the mines said last night.
“Ministry of mines officials and police have taken control… and loopholes are being used by gwejas. Strangely, the makorokoza moved in hours after the announcement by the minister.
“It’s as if they knew an announcement was going to be made. It’s now a free for all, with looting of the highest order of diamonds now underway,” another source said.
The mining companies active in Marange include Anjin Investments, Diamond Mining Company, Jinan, Kusena, Marange Resources and Mbada Diamonds — with the government having held 50 percent shareholding in all the firms up to this week’s seizure.
Efforts to get a comment from Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) acting general manager Richard Chingodza last night were in vain, as his mobile phone went unanswered.
Again, efforts to speak to Chidakwa were also fruitless, with his deputy Fred Moyo confessing ignorance about the Chiadzwa goings-on.
Commenting on the government’s forcible takeover of the diamond mines yesterday, ex-University of Zimbabwe economics lecturer, Tony Hawkins, said the minister’s directive was harsh and unwarranted.
“I think strong arguments have been made for consolidation, but the move to kick the companies out will have strong ramifications on the economy and speaks volumes about the country’s property rights laws to investors,” he said.
Economist Issis Mwale said the manner in which the decision had been taken left a lot to be desired.
“You cannot just call people who have investments and tell them to leave in three months. It is not best practise procedure … The minister, being the man he is could have looked for another way to accommodate the miners. Resistance to consolidation was natural because it was new,” she said.
A Chinese Embassy representative, who was present at Chidakwa’s Harare press conference, said Zimbabwe was violating a bilateral agreement it signed with China in 1998.
So bad have Zanu PF’s succession wars become, that an angry Mugabe — thoroughly fed up with his party’s brawling underlings — recently savaged ousted war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa, virtually signalling the end of the minister’s career both in the former liberation movement and government.
Unexpectedly moving to address the nation at the weekend, Mugabe also made it very clear that he remained “firmly in charge of the party and the country”, while leaving little to the imagination that the verbose ex-diplomat — an alleged kingpin of Mnangagwa’s faction — was toast.
The long-ruling nonagenarian was flanked by a decidedly sullen Mnangagwa and a comparatively relaxed co-VP Phelekezela Mphoko to his left.
And in yet another revealing hint of how Zanu PF’s deadly succession wars may pan out, he sprang to the defence of his powerful wife Grace and excoriated Team Lacoste (Mnangagwa faction) members who have been hurling insults at him and the first lady over the past few weeks.
Without mincing his words, Mugabe also pointedly accused the garullous Mutsvangwa of having misled war veterans into marching on Harare last Thursday — where they were soundly beaten by police — after they were made to believe that he would address them.
The Zanu PF leader’s outburst also followed the unprecedented move by anti-riot police to clamp down on the pro-Mnangagwa ex-combatants — tear-gassing and water-spraying them before unyieldingly forcing them to disperse — after the group had attempted to flex their muscles by congregating at the City Sports Centre.
The chaos, which the Daily News had accurately predicted in its editions of the past few weeks, came as Zanu PF’s ugly internal wars get deadlier and dirtier, with the faction linked to Mnangagwa increasingly mounting an open rebellion against Mugabe and Grace.
So bold and aggressive have been some of the utterances, and tactics employed by Team Lacoste that there are real national security concerns that the ruling party’s escalating fights could soon turn into bloody conflict.
As the police teargassed the former freedom fighters and used water canons last Thursday, many bystanders and journalists were caught up in the mayhem meant to break up the gathering of war veterans who had trickled into the capital to attend the rally.
But the war veterans’ mission, including plans to march on Zanu PF’s national headquarters, fell apart after the authorities dealt with them firmly — a treatment that is usually reserved for opposition figures and other government critics.
After giving the fast-aging war veterans five minutes to disperse before action was taken against them, the law enforcement agents said the
demo and meeting had not been sanctioned.
But clearly believing that force would not be used against them, the ex-combatants defiantly said they would not budge before breaking into song.
Soon after, all hell broke loose — and to the disappointment of some bystanders with a high affinity for real life drama, as the veterans scampered in all directions without a whimper.