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Making the Case

Zimbabwean Human Rights Activist Farai Maguwu traveled to the U.S. to talk to the jewelry and diamond industry about the state of human rights progress in Zimbabwe, and what still needs to be done.

By Ricci Dipshan


Farai Maguwu
Since atrocities in Zimbabwe’s Marange fields were first brought to light shortly after diamonds were discovered there in 2006,Zimbabwean diamond expert and human rights activist Farai Maguwu has been an outspoken critic of the illegal mining and abuses that have plagued the country’s diamond industry. Maguwu is the director of the Center for Research and Development (CRD), a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in Mutare, Zimbabwe. In May 2010, he was arrested by local officials on charges of giving a Kimberley Process (KP) monitor false information regarding the actions of military officials at the Marange mines — a charge that he wholeheartedly denied. Maguwu, who was in poor health when he was arrested, was imprisoned for over a month and denied adequate medical care. The arrest was quickly condemned by the international community, the KP and a host of human rights organizations, who pressured Zimbabwe officials to release Maguwu, which they did in July 2010. All charges against Maguwu were dropped in October of that year. In November 2011, Maguwu was awarded the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Maguwu has reported some progress being made with the proposal of new diamond legislation meant to replace the Precious Stones Trade Act, which has been regulating Zimbabwe’s diamond trade since 1903.  While this new proposed law is encouraging, Maguwu notes that there are still many problems facing local communities and miners that need to be addressed.

RAPAPORT MAGAZINE: Please explain your NGO, the Center for Research and Development (CRD).

Farai Maguwu: The Center for Research and Development was formed in 2005 and was registered as a trust. It aims to promote good governance of natural resources leading to sustainable development, especially in rural areas. CRD has assisted grassroots rural communities in gold- and diamond-rich areas of Zimbabwe to register Community Based Organizations (CBO) for advocacy and develop-mental purposes. Its training programs aim at building the capacities of communities in resource-rich areas to advocate for environmental, economic, cultural, civil and political rights.

RM: What prompted you to get involved in human rights issues in Zimbabwe?

FM: We got involved in human rights monitoring in November 2008. This is when the Zimbabwe National Army was deployed into Marange and committed despicable atrocities against the miners and the community. There was little information in the public domain concerning these atrocities. We came across many people who had been severely assaulted and we attended some of the funerals. Being an organization that was formed to promote human rights and good governance, we felt a strong moral conviction to intervene and alert the local population and the international community on the situation in Marange.

RM: What new issues need to be addressed now that the KP has approved Zimbabwe’s diamonds?

FM: The issues to be addressed are both local and international. At the local level, the biggest concern is about transparency and accountability. The government needs to tighten the screws on the mining companies to ensure that there is no loss of revenue through underhanded deals. Smuggling of diamonds is no longer associated with artisanal miners, who are now very few. Rather, some big international dealers have found a way to smuggle diamonds out of Zimbabwe.

This brings me to the international dimension of the emerging challenges with regard to Marange diamonds. The government says that despite the KP approval, it is struggling to sell its diamonds on the formal market because the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) are on U.S. and European Union (EU) sanctions lists. This poses a double challenge where diamonds are smuggled officially with no paper trail and also they are undervalued, thereby undermining the economic interests of Zimbabwe. Rather, it is the dealers who make the most out of Zimbabwe’s diamonds. Furthermore, economic predators in Zimbabwe are also taking advantage of the political stalemate on shipments to smuggle and divert the funds into their own pockets.

RM: How can the diamond situation in Zimbabwe be improved?

FM: The Ministry of Mines has gone through a consultative phase where it sought public views on the proposed Diamond Bill. The Diamond Bill should address issues to do with exploration, investor identification, beneficiation, marketing, harmonization of government ministries and departments that deal with diamonds, environmental protection and community rights, among other things. There are significant developments in terms of infrastructure improvement, compensation of the relocated families and reduction in violence.

RM: What issues still need to be addressed?

FM: What matters to the common man is that every diamond is properly accounted for — and this remains a challenge. A lot still needs to be done to restore public confidence in government’s ability to properly account for Marange gems. There is need for harmonizationof functions, especially between the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Finance. The two ministries have consistently clashed over diamond revenues.

We were also concerned that dealers were benefiting at the expense of the Zimbabwean people. It was critical for consumers to understand the prevailing conditions at the source where the diamonds were coming from, so we produced a documentary in 2009, which was broadcast several times on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Channel 3. As we continued to research, document and expose the abuses, there was an overwhelming local and international condemnation leading to the intervention of the KP in June 2009. Though violence has gone down significantly, we keep a close eye on the rights of the artisanal miners and the local community.

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