Lift blood diamond curbs

Nov 14 2012 10:29
Malcom Sharara, Fin24’s correspondent in Zimbabwe
THIS week Fin24 reported on calls by Mines Minister Susan Shabangu for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe, especially on the sale of diamonds.

Speaking at the inaugural Zimbabwe diamond conference, Shabangu said South Africa is committed to lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

Her calls were echoed by Namibian Mines Minister Isak Katali, who also called for an end to sanctions on Zimbabwe's gem trade.

This was after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe also said the Marange diamonds must be allowed to trade freely on the international market in order to fully contribute to the economy.

Most commentators said the calls by the trio were misplaced as the lifting of the sanctions will only propel Mugabe and allow first lady Grace Mugabe to shop till she drops in exclusive boutiques around the world.

To me, these comments just showed that there are a lot of people who actually believe Mugabe and his allies are the ones being affected by the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.

Surprisingly, the same people believe that Mugabe and his allies have siphoned more than US$2bn from the sale of diamonds. If sanctions can give you a loophole or an opportunity to earn or loot that kind of money, Mugabe should be the last one to wish them away.

What would be better for him: to take $1 000 and shop at Harrods, or to take $2bn and shop in China, Dubai and Singapore? I am sure you agree with me that the latter is a far better option.

Yes, Western countries always want us to believe that there are no sanctions on Zimbabwe as a country, only on certain individuals and companies - but that is far from the truth.

While the majority are suffering, battling to budget the remittances from relatives abroad, Mugabe and his colleagues own farms and companies, and are obviously living large.

Sanctions on Zimbabwe mostly affect ordinary Zimbabweans who have no means of survival, because companies are closing as sanctions continue to restrict recapitalisation funds from coming in. 

For instance, Finance Minister Tendai Biti is likely to get only a quarter of the $600m he was expecting from the sale of diamonds, the reason being that diamond mining firms are failing to sell their produce because of sanctions.

We all know diamonds are being sold, but the sanctions imposed on the firms have given Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu a cheap excuse to deny state treasury the much-needed revenues.

In his 2012 budget, Biti had earmarked the $600m for infrastructural development but all that failed to materialise after he received a small fraction of what he was expecting.

In my view the sanctions on Zim diamonds are nothing but a blessing in disguise for those who are reportedly looting the proceeds.

There is no longer any transparency about their sales, with the responsible minister giving the lame excuse that exposing diamond sale activity would only result in limited sales.

As Mpofu himself put it: “How can you be transparent when there are hyenas chasing after you?

"They want to know who is buying your diamonds, which country they are coming from, which bank they are using and which flight they are on.” He said at least $30m is trapped by international institutions under the anti-Marange diamond campaign. These restrictions give him the ammunition to veil the diamond operations under a black cloak.

I believe it is in the best interests of ordinary Zimbabweans for sanctions to be removed so that diamond looters will be left exposed and without anything to hide behind.

I am also of the view that countries and NGOs that continue to label Zim diamonds bloody, despite the Kimberly Process describing Zimbabwean operations as a good “model”, have a hidden agenda.

Labelling Zim diamonds as bloody means the country will sell them more cheaply, with buyers saying they carry some element of risk. Mugabe said the diamonds have been marketed at depressed prices owing to a negative buyer perception resulting from illegal sanctions.

Chaim Even-Zohar, president of Tel Aviv-based diamond consulting service Tacy Limited, told a recent conference Zimbabwe is earning 75% of potential diamond value due to economic sanctions as it cannot get the best market prices.

Zohar added Zimbabwe has potential to produce 8 to 10% of global production but is hamstrung by restrictions, which have seen it selling the gems at a discount.

What Western countries are doing is trying to force Zimbabweans into removing Mugabe, if not peacefully then violently. Most Zimbabweans would rather not stoop so low. Evidence abounds that not even one country that removed its government violently ultimately enjoys peace.

I do not condone the fact that people died in Marange, but that doesn’t mean our diamonds are bloody. Can we stop selling Marikana platinum just because people died there? Is it now bloody platinum?

That’s just food for thought for those who still believe Zim diamonds are bloody.

 - Fin24
zimbabawe  |  blood diamonds



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