Zanu PF infighting halts diamonds auction

Harare — INTENSE infighting within Zanu PF over control of the Marange diamonds stalled the planned sale of diamonds on Thursday and is frustrating proper mining operations of the precious mineral, sources revealed.

This was compounded by the fact that Mbada Diamonds, a joint operation between government and Grandwell Holdings of South Africa, failed to meet conditions stipulated by the Kimberley Certification Process, the global diamond regulatory body, before the planned sale.

The two camps are already embroiled in a bitter decade-long battle to succeed ageing President Robert Mugabe (85) as leader of the party and the country.

Last week Mbada announced the proposed auction of the first 300 000 carats of the precious Marange mineral but this flopped spectacularly after it turned out proper procedures had not been followed.

Although government, which is also a shareholder in Mbada, had been informed about the auction, Secretary for Mines and Mining Development Thankful Musukutwa said the auction had been stopped until the correct laid-down process was followed.

He said Mbada should have involved the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, ZRP Minerals Unit and the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development in the process.

But announcing the diamond auction on Wednesday, Mbada chairman Robert Mhlanga claimed government was involved in the whole process.

"The sales and marketing offices are jointly manned and controlled by teams from both government and Mbada Diamonds," he said.

Mhlanga, a former air vice-marshal, has close links with Mugabe. He was one of the first black pilots to fly Zimbabwe’s only ruler since Independence.

Sources said the auction was stopped after officials from the faction aligned to Mujuru took advantage of the failure by Mbada to follow laid down procedures.

The Mujuru faction, said one of the sources, wants to wrest control of the Marange diamonds from the faction aligned to Mnangagwa whose key figures are associated with the companies mining in the controversial area. Mnangagwa is acting Minister of Mines.

The Mujuru faction, said another source, is also querying how Mbada – a company hurriedly registered late last year – got the tender to mine diamonds in Chiadzwa ahead of already "existing and reputable" mining firms.

Mhlanga dismissed allegations that he was aligned to any politician saying: "I am not aligned to politicians, MDC, Zanu PF or Mavambo. I am my own man."

He said it was time the diamonds benefited the country and the people of Marange instead of politicians.

However, sources said, some politicians loyal to the Mujuru faction – who had been in control of mining operations at Chiadzwa before the normalisation of mining in the area– were determined to derail the project.

"It is the fight for political control of Zanu PF that has spilled over to the control of the diamonds," said one of the sources. "Each faction knows that the diamonds are the country’s lifeblood so they both want to control the precious stones.

"Mbada officials made the mistake of not going by the book and their adversaries took advantage of that to throw spanners in the works."

This is not the first time that Mbada has been stopped in its tracks.

Last month, the Environment Management Authority (EMA) ordered the company to stop mining operations saying Mbada had contravened the Environmental Management Act [20:27].

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu declined to comment saying: "I am on leave."

Efforts to get comments from Mujuru, Mnangagwa and the Deputy Minister of Mines Murisi Zwizwai were unsuccessful yesterday.

As the fight for the control of diamond rages on, ACR has warned international diamond traders against buying germs from the Marange diamond field, saying they were "stolen".

ACR holds right of title to claims on the Marange diamond field that was seized by the government in October 2006 and reallocated to ZMDC.

"Those are our diamonds. Anyone buying them must know that they are trading in stolen diamonds. We are placing an advert in the press to that effect," ACR lawyer Jonathan Samkange said after Mbada announced it would be auctioning the first 300 000 carats of Marange diamonds.

The government also seized considerable quantities of diamonds from ACR but was last year ordered by the High Court to return the diamonds to the British company.

The court also upheld ACR’s right of title to Marange – in a judgment government is contesting.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has demanded the immediate establishment of an independent investigating committee that would report to Parliament to undertake an audit of the firms currently mining at Chiadzwa.

ZLHR said Zimbabwe has not met the standards set up by the KCP for it to start mining the diamonds. (The Standard)