BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
MARANGE villagers have alleged that they are being forced by military personnel to work in the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) diamond fields, a month after the United States raised a red flag on the country and banned the trading of rough diamonds mined in the area.
The US barred the trading of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe last month, accusing the country of using forced labour at its diamond fields in Marange.
The government, however, dismissed the claims, describing the move as constituting a grave and serious attack on Zimbabwe’s interests.
Speaking to NewsDay, Bocha Diamond Community Trust chairman Moses Mukwada said the mining area is so close to their homes that they witness human rights violations on a daily basis.
Mukwada alleged that soldiers come into the area and hire youths and other illegal miners to go into the fields and mine the gems, promising them a share of the proceeds, only to confiscate the ore and arrest them later.
“The soldiers and police come in the community looking for youths and illegal miners and take them to the fields to work after promising them that they would share the loot.
After working for some hours, they are then ordered to leave the fields. On exiting the fields, security guards would confiscate all the ores and subsequently arrest them,” Mukwada said.
“Those arrested are then taken to a military base where they are forced to wash the soldiers’ uniforms, fetch firewood and cook for them for a week or so.”
Mukwada said they have witnessed the abuse of youth and illegal miners on several occasions.
He also alleged that ZCDC security guards always shoot towards the community to deter villagers from entering the fields.
“ZCDC security guards shoot direct at people with the intention to kill. This is one of our concerns. The use of live bullets occurred three months ago and is a clear testimony on how ZCDC guards are conducting their business without mercy. We know the names of those killed during the shooting three months ago,” Mukwada added.
“There is no freedom of movement here, especially local villagers who have cars because they need to fork out for car permits which are renewed every month at their own expense. Without vehicle permits, local vehicle owners are harassed on a daily basis and are required to pay $40 for two boom gates at Hot Spring and at Chishingwi Primary School.”
Mukwada said married women whose national identity documents obtained outside Marange also face challenges entering their homesteads because they are perceived as strangers by the security details in the area.
He further said teachers, pastors and mourners from other provinces were not allowed to enter the community. The community leader said they have since suspended traditional ceremonies where relatives from outside Marange are invited.
“Previous mining companies destroyed Chirasika School and ZCDC has taken over the area, but they failed to rebuild the school and children are walking long distances to Hot Springs School which is 20km away. Most of the school girls are being abused by motorists who offer them transport,” Mukwada said.
Contacted for a comment last week, Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Overson Mugwisi asked NewsDay to furnish him with more details on the location of the alleged abuse by the soldiers to enable him to investigate as there were many base stations in the area.
NewsDay contacted him again after three days and he asked for questions to be sent by email, but had not responded at the time of going to print.
ZCDC spokesperson Sugar Chagonda professed ignorance over reports of use of forced labour in the diamond fields.
“If anyone has evidence of any kind of forced labour, we will be glad to get more information. What you are alleging to be happening between soldiers and villagers, we don’t have any reported cases,” Chagonda said.
‘If anything of that sort is happening, it is still illegal. All parties involved must be reported to the police. ZCDC is a responsible State miner that does not condone any form of corruption. We have zero tolerance to corruption and we believe in transparency and accountability.”