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De Beers, Zim diamond feud gets bloody

Nov 13 2011 11:28 Nhlalo Ndaba

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Johannesburg - Leading diamond company De Beers says it left its operations in Zimbabwe because it discovered that the diamond deposits did not meet the company’s expectations.

But the mining house insists everything was done above board.

This revelation comes at a time when the diamond giant is facing heightening lawsuit threats from the Zimbabwean government.

Zimbabwe's Mining Minister Obert Mpofu said that even though the country has been allowed to export its diamonds by the Kimberley Process, it has facts at its disposal that infer that De Beers, during its 15 years in Zimbabwe, was smuggling precious gems, thereby denying the country of revenue.

Speaking from London, De Beers’ media relations head Lynette Gould said that before De Beers left Zimbabwe it sought an audience with the government and handed over its findings.

Gould said: “The presence of diamonds in the Marange area was first discovered in the period 2001 to 2003 by De Beers during its exploration search for primary deposits.

“The prospecting in the region was concluded by early 2006, with the conclusion that the primary source for such diamonds was not local, and De Beers moved to relinquish its prospecting rights in the region.”

De Beers’ licence for exploring the diamond fields then expired in June 2006. From that point, a company owned by Zanu-PF loyalists, Mbada Diamonds, took over.

Mbada is currently working there in partnership with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Cooperation, a government company.

Ironically, the same year that De Beers left Zimbabwe, key figures in Zanu-PF and the military moved in to monopolise the diamond fields, barring civilians from the diamond rush.

Many lives were lost as the army shot to kill while smuggling took its toll. The Zimbabwean diamonds were then branded blood diamonds.

Gould added that another aspect that made De Beers consider its future in Zimbabwe was that the government had created an environment of uncertainty.

She said: “In addition, the government had created an environment of uncertainty regarding the status and future of the concession.”

Mpofu said there was no way De Beers did not benefit from its stay in Zimbabwe. He said: “They smuggled out millions of dollars worth of gems.

It is just a matter of time before we finish our investigations and take the matter to the international court.”

According to Gould, De Beers had been in Zimbabwe since the early 1990s with a company called De Beers Zimbabwe.

“By way of background, De Beers arrived in Zimbabwe in 1993 and left in 2006, and first prospected in the Marange area in the late 1990s,” she said.

Zimbabwe is pinning its hopes of economic revival on the diamond deposits.

However, analysts and civic groups fear that revenue from the diamonds will only fatten the pockets of the political elite and even fund Zanu-PF’s election terror campaigns.

- City Press 

de beers  |  zimbabwe  |  diamonds  |  marange diamond fields
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