Saturday, February 22, 2014

(SUNDAY MAIL ZW) Exposé of De Beers’ murky dealings in Chiadzwa
Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00

As part of a colourful narrative of corporate greed, corruption, intrigue and a conspiracy of silence, the story of how De Beers, a creation of Cecil John Rhodes, raped the diamond fields of Chiadzwa in a 12-year period has not been fully told.

True to history, only dribs and drabs of what truly transpired are beginning to emerge, signifying, on the one hand, how the country and the continent continue to lose out despite being richly endowed with minerals resources, and, on the other hand, how global international conglomerates continue to squander the goodwill offered by African governments.

De Beers, a company formed by Cecil John Rhodes in 1888 and subsequently taken over by the Oppeinheimer family, is described as a cartel of companies whose sphere of influence spans the whole diamond value chain from mining, trading and marketing.

A recent report released by the Centre of National Resource Governance (CNRG) indicates that suspicions that De Beers, whose first footprint in Zimbabwe’s Marange field was first registered in 1994 when it successfully applied for an Exclusive Prospecting Order (EPO), was secretly siphoning diamonds from Marange under the guise of prospecting first came to light in the 1990s after Government actively began pursuing its affirmative action policies.

Young black geologists, as a consequence, found their way into the employ of De Beers, but suspiciously they were denied access to Marange.

All the while, the company continued to compile dossiers of adverse reports of the fields as a viable investment option, but nevertheless continued prospecting.

It is not clear how the company’s exclusive prospecting order (EPO) was extended three times against the standing provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act.

Some groups believe that there was active collusion by local officials who abetted plans by the conglomerate to prejudice the Zimbabwean Government.

“Section 94 of Zimbabwe’s Mines and Minerals Act states that ‘no order shall be granted for a period in excess of three years but an order may be extended by the Minister, on the recommendation of the Board, for a further period or periods not exceeding three years in all.’

“This means government extended De Beers EPO three times since the initial expiration of its EPO in 1997,” observes the report.

But the scale and extent of De Beers’ greed didn’t escape the eyes of the locals.

It is believed that villagers became curious when the company set up what was believed to be a “makeshift diamond processing plant” at Bezely Bridge.

The plant operated only at night.

Armed with tips from local geologists and villagers, some Government officials began to confront the company, while others steadfastly stood in its defence.

Some of the officials that were compromised even lamely claimed that De Beers was doing “experimentation for fertiliser manufacturing.”

Some incensed officials (names withheld) even threatened the interests of the Oppeinheimer family, which controlled a 40 percent in the company then, if they did not exit from Marange.

When De Beers’ licence abruptly expired on 29 March 2006, they hastily withdrew.

It is alleged that after the withdrawal of De Beers, white South Africans - employees of De Beers - invaded the area and contracted villagers, whom they taught to identify the precious stones, to start panning for diamonds, which they bought once every fortnight.

But as word spread, artisanal miners grew initially from less than 100 in May 2006 to 10 000 in seven months time.

African Consolidated Resources, which had hastily been awarded an EPO after De Beers’ departure, also waded into the picture but Government withdrew its licence over the manner the EPO was granted.

Former Minister of Mines Dr Obert Mpofu tried to seek legal recourse by suing De Beers for fraud, but in a typical Hollywood espionage script, all the records vanished from Mining Promotion and Development Unit of the Government. And the case seems to have died a natural death.

To this day, De Beers professes innocence, claiming that the company prospected Marange for a little under 10 years.

It also claims that it divested from Marange because it does not mine alluvial diamonds.

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