VILLAGERS in the Chiadzwa area of Marange in Manicaland province are continuing to endure human rights abuses in the hands of security forces manning diamond-rich fields in the area, despite multi-stakeholder meetings between government and civil society aimed at ending the violations, The NewsHawks has established.
The government declared the diamond fields protected areas under the Protected Places and Areas Act (PPAA) to govern movement of the resource. The law, first promulgated in 1979, came into effect in the Marange area in 2007 to stem the plunder of the mineral.
The PPAA empowers the government to control the movement of people in protected areas, usually demanding them to produce identification when moving into and out of the area, among other security checks.
Three weeks ago, The NewsHawks published pictures of victims from the Marange area that have been brutally assaulted by security forces. Civil society has been engaging the government to find a lasting solution which will protect both the villagers and the mineral, but with limited success.
“Two weeks ago, there was a meeting we had with the ministry of Home Affairs in Mutare that was organised by the Centre for Research and Development (CRD). It was focused on challenging the Protected Places and Areas Act which gave a notice that would make Chiadzwa a protected area in 2007,” said Cosmas Sunguro, president of the Zimbabwe Diamond Workers’ Union (Zidawu), an organisation representing employees in the diamond sector.
“It has been forcing people to produce national identity cards and other identification particulars, while placing movement restrictions on people in the area. So, our issue was to convince the ministry on how the situation has changed from 2007 and what we suggest needs to be done.
“We have said to ministry, look, you are supposed to relocate people to areas like Arda Transau, but you have not done that, and the people are living like they are in keeps,” said Sunguro.
He said people in Chiadzwa should be allowed to move freely, while other stakeholders say the military should be removed from the area because of their propensity to commit human rights abuses.
Civil society activists last week held meetings with the ministry of Mines and Mining Development to follow up on progress made in restraining human rights abuses by security agents in Chiadzwa. However, a day after the meeting, the councillor for ward 30 in Chiadzwa — who has been vocal over the human rights abuses — was abducted and released the following day.
“So, the situation is that, whilst people are negotiating with the authorities, whether it is the military, state security people and others, the issue of harassment is still continuing on citizens. In some cases, the harassments are unwarranted because people are afraid of going to shops and public areas.
“Security forces are not coming to a consensus with the villagers. They are changed time and again, and those who come continue with the harassments. The women are also bearing the brunt”, said Sunguro. He said the situation has been worsened by artisanal panners — also known as gwejas — who have been illegally mining diamonds in the area.
“Security forces will be mainly going after these, but then, they end up using the one-gunshoot-all method which is affecting innocent villagers. They (most villagers) will not be illegal panners at all. But they (security agents) treat everyone as such,” he said.
Sunguro said security forces and the villagers should reach an understanding, especially in the event that the government fails to relocate the people to a safer place. The government has since 2009 relocated over 1 000 families from Chiadzwa to Arda Transau, 40 kilometres from the diamond fields — along Odzi River.
However, remaining families have endured abuses at the hands of security forces.
“What we want is to live in harmony with our mineral resources. We have been there before diamonds. There are also some of the soldiers — some, and not all of them, having syndicates with the local people to loot the mineral, and some people will be complaining. By so doing, the security forces will be retaliating against such complaints,” Sunguro said.
“People want to benefit from diamonds, but that should not be an excuse to harass. If people are not behaving in a good way, there is need to have multi-stakeholder meetings. Those people have to be briefed on how things will be going.”
A Chiadzwa community member, Lloyd Banda, said the government should take decisive action on the abuses.
“From the community perspective, people are saying that they want the soldiers to go. Soldiers say they are trained not to discuss with civilians, which is a different case with police officers.
“In our last meeting with the ministry of Home Affairs, they were saying that they are under-equipped, hence the need to rope in the army which was just in the barracks as we are not in a time of war,” said Banda, who has been part of the multi-stakeholder discussions.