Military control over diamond mining in Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange district has resulted in a brutal mix of massacres, forced labour, beatings and rape.
This is according to a comprehensive report released last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based rights NGO, which interviewed over 100 people in the region in February 2009.
Mining in Marange began in 2006. Initially the government allowed anybody to prospect in the area. Then it started clamping down. Recognizing the mines as an important revenue opportunity, the Zanu PF-controlled army invaded the mines in October 2008, massacring over 200 miners in the process.
Helicopters swooped down over illegal miners, shooting live ammunition and teargas. 800 soldiers were sent in to secure the area. Illegal miners were forced to dig mass graves for their murdered comrades. The report says:
A local headman told Human Rights Watch that in the three weeks of the military operation, Chiadzwa resembled “a war zone in which soldiers killed people like flies.” Another headman was forced to bury five bodies of miners; all five bodies had what appeared to be bullet wounds. None of the bodies were identifiable.
With the army in control of the area, the violence has continued and illegal mining – which the police and military were ostensibly supposed to shut down – has continued to flourish, this time in the hands of soldiers.
The army is forcing at least 300 children to work without pay in the mines. A woman forced to work on the mines told an HRW researcher: ‘We worked together with about 30 children of ages between 10 and 17 years. The children worked the same 11 hours each day as adults did. The soldiers had a duty roster for all villagers in Chiadzwa to take turns to work in the fields, irrespective of age.’ The woman explained how men did the digging, while children and women carried the ore, then sieved it before sorting the diamonds. The women and children were forced to work without breaks, with soldiers not even providing food and water, and beating those working too slowly.
Soldiers have also been plundering impoverished villages, stealing items like cellphones, maize and blankets. In addition to this, the report reveals that:
Several witnesses and victims told Human Rights Watch that soldiers continue to assault, harass, and subject the local community to torture…
Two such incidences occurred in February 2009 when:
[F]ive soldiers beat three Muchena villagers for over five hours using a rubber hose without stating any reasons for the assault. The same night, eight soldiers assaulted a family in Muedzengwa village using open palms, clenched fists, rifle butts, and booted feet. The soldiers then allegedly stole several items of personal property. During the beatings, the soldiers demanded information on local miners, which the villagers did not have.
Zanu PF party apparatchiks have also threatened to forcibly remove those who live in the area, estimated by HRW to be about 7000 families. The reign of terror and military oppression continues, with the illicit profits from smuggling (diamonds are sent illegally to Mozambique and Johannesburg, South Africa) benefiting soldiers and senior Zanu PF officials.
HRW has called on Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government to intervene and place police control over the area, ensuring ‘that the police abide by internationally recognized standards of law enforcement and use of lethal force.’ It also calls for the government to launch an investigation into the rampant human rights abuses in the area.
Unfortunately, the unity government is unlikely to do anything. While Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is eager to claim that Zimbabwe has made great strides in governance reform, and that his nemesis President Robert Mugabe is accepting this process, nothing could be further from the truth.
As I have discussed in the past, Zanu PF is doing its utmost to stall reforms proposed in the unity agreement. Furthermore, human rights activists, lawyers and opposition MDC politicos continue to be unlawfully harassed and detained. Hundreds of prisoners die of starvation in jail. And land grabs and persecution of farmers occur with impunity.
Zanu PF’s undemocratic participation in government is only further aiding Zimbabwe’s disintegration and prolonging the suffering of our ordinary Zimbabweans. The world cannot look away from the horrifying abuses and continuing tyranny in the Marange diamond fields and elsewhere. It is no use pretending that Zanu PF is prepared to surrender its illegitimate and strangulating hold on power. Zimbabwe will continue its agonizing implosion if the West decides to prop up this sham unity government.
Regional powerhouse South Africa as well as Europe, Britain and the US need to act in the best interests of all Zimbabweans and force Zanu PF to accept the rule of law and ensure that the obligations in the unity agreement are adhered to. The suffering citizens of Marange, and of Zimbabwe as a whole, deserve nothing less.