Review of Facets of Power - Heritage of Zimbabwe

Heritage of Zimbabwe
2017

Saunders, Richard & Nyamunda, Tinashe (eds). 2016. Facets of Power. Politics, profits and people in the making of Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds. Harare Weaver Press. xix+215 pages. ISBN: 978-1-77922-288-6. Price: US$25.

 


US$15,000,000,000 is a large sum of money by any standards. Arguably this represents three years of GDP for Zimbabwe in the current climate. On 3 March 2016 aired an interview with President Mugabe termed “The President @92,” recorded to mark his birthday. In a wide-ranging discussion, he told the nation: “We have not received much from the diamond industry at all… I don’t think we have exceeded US$2 billion, and yet we think that well or more US$15 billion has been earned in that area… The companies that have been mining have virtually, I want to say, robbed us of our wealth. That is why we have decided that this area should be a monopoly area and only the state should be able to do the mining… You cannot trust a private company” (Mail & Guardian, 11 September 2017).

In ten chapters, the book under review takes the reader into a preliminary exploration as to why the President may have felt compelled to make the remarks that he did. The June 2006 discovery of major alluvial diamond deposits in the Marange District of Manicaland province, eastern Zimbabwe should have been a turning point for the country’s economic growth. In the introduction Saunders analyses the finds and their importance at the time as well situating the sordid Zimbabwean experience within the shadowy global context of diamond production. 

The whole book explores the juxtaposition of the Zimbabwe government’s attempts to adhere to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KP) by formalising the diamond sector in a brutal manner. Unsurprisingly Saunders argues that “it became apparent that the aim was not to eliminate the black market trade, but rather facilitate and incorporate it within a mining regime dominated by elements of ZANU-PF’s security and political leadership” forming a “bloody cocktail of economic and political power” (p.21). The fact that the perpetrators of human rights abuses too numerous to mention here were government agencies and not “rebels” showed a new face to the “blood diamond” debate. The detailed chapter by Martin chronicles the networks and mechanisms for moving illicit diamonds around while Mtisi’s contribution reveals the futility of the entire Kimberley Process, labelling it “an enabler of practices that violated its own core principles and practices” (p.67).

Maguwu’s heartfelt contribution argues Marange was synonymous with misery; indeed, based on his account events there can justifiably be ranked alongside Gukuruhundi and Murambatsvina as a dark chapter in Zimbabwe’s past. The “free-for-all” period of 2006 to 2008, the focus of Nyamunda’s excellent chapter, is of great interest due the government’s shifting stance on the magweja, the artisanal miners, who were initially encouraged to work in the area and then became the enemy, at least in the eyes of the government and security forces. At least 35,000 people made the fields their home for two years, most scraping by; windfalls occurred but earnings came from pushing volume. The local economy was greatly boosted for these two years although, as Nyamunda relates, it came at great cost in abandoned traditions and customs and reduced social mores. Indeed, as the chapter relates the story, this is the story of Zimbabwe in the same period, writ small. 

Education took a knock with the discovery of diamonds, and Ruguwa brilliantly shows how many schools in the district closed or were much reduced, as students, teachers and parents left to mine and also to supply goods and services to the Marange economy. He reveals how teachers and students were among the first to discover and sell the stones, often for pitiful amounts: one person allegedly sold 1kg of diamonds for ZAR1,000 to buy school text books! (p.137-138). The pass rates collapsed to near zero while the relative affluence of families in the area increased, and the chapter ends with the realisation that “some of Zimbabwe’s richest mineralised land became home to schools with some of the poorest educational results” (p.155).

Loss is a recurring theme in the book, no better illustrated than in the chapter by the Madebwes who chart the forced removal of more than 600 families from the Chiadzwa area to make way for mining operations. The lack of consultation, poor provision of information and lack of notice for eviction plans (p.160-162) are typical of the relocation schemes in the country since the 1990s (indeed, the 1970s!). The table on page 166 is a startling indication of the losses in non-economic assets (forests, crops, wells, boreholes, ancestral graves and shrines, etc), ignored by the companies and government, but arguably more important than any monetary losses suffered. The final chapter by Chiponda and Saunders continues the themes discussed throughout the book, examining the effect of the diamond claims on the government after 2013. A brief epilogue reviewing the themes completes the book.

As we have come to expect from Weaver Press, the book is expertly produced. I would have preferred to have seen a chapter comparing the Zimbabwean experience with other countries to provide a broader context to the story. Additionally, a review of the creation and operations of the various diamond companies and their eventual nationalisation would have been welcome - as patchy as it would have been due to the murky nature of the global diamond business. 

As a Zimbabwean, this is a difficult tale to read but the authors, editors and publishers should be heartily congratulated for producing a book that will stand as testament to the greatest lost opportunity in Zimbabwe’s history. It is futile to speculate on what greatness Zimbabwe might have achieved if the profits from Marange had been used more wisely and honestly. One hopes future generations, should they ever be so lucky, will take heed of the lessons in this book and seize the moment to attain greatness - if they ever get the chance.

 


PAUL HUBBARD
Archaeologist, Historian and Guide
12 Fortune’s Gate Road, Bulawayo