Zimbabwean Village Pays Heavily for Diamond Wealth

>In the once-quiet Zimbabwean village of Chiadzwa, there are massive diamond deposits that can be dug out with simple tools only a few feet below the ground - on children's playgrounds, in pastures, and in cornfields. But in an all-too-familiar illustration of the resource curse, the  mineral wealth has turned out to be anything but a gift for the poor people who live there.

In 2008, the government of Zimbabwe launched an operation code-named Operation Hakudzokwi, which means "There is no return" in the Shona language. In an effort to clear Chiadzwa and the surrounding Marange district of illegal miners, the armed forces attacked the village with helicopter gunships, spraying bullets, tear-gassing the mines and following up with foot soldiers and packs of dogs. Human Rights Watch estimated the deaths at about 200, but local villagers claim that many more were killed and secretly buried. The BBC later published photographs of a mass grave where 68 bodies were buried. A police woman working in the area reported seeing piled bodies that were later quietly buried.

Security forces have kept up the violence ever since, and few residents are willing to talk to strangers. A human rights activist from the area spoke to The Atlantic on condition of anonymity to protect his connections. "Life is cheap in Marange," he said, "and people are afraid to talk, but when they do you protect their anonymity because that's the only way you can get to the root of the problem. You cannot produce a report if anyone who would talk to you has disappeared."

According to this activist, travel in the area is severely restricted. Only local villagers are allowed in and they repeatedly have to show documents that identify them as having been born in the Marange District. Those who leave the village or travel back in are closely watched, and everyone lives in a state of terror. Soldiers in the area have also recruited forced labor to work in the mines, including children, the human rights activist said, and they hold the power of life and death over every civilian in the area.

Court documents identify the London-listed African Consolidated Resources (ACR) as the legal owners of the claims but according to ACR's legal representatives, the diamond mining concern was forcibly evicted from the mines only months into its operations. Despite successive court rulings in ACR's favor, the company's employees have been kept out at gunpoint and have watched helplessly as their claims were overrun. The Zimbabwean, an independent Zimbabwean newspaper, has identified prominent members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) party, including Vice President Joyce Mujuru, Air Marshal Perence Shiri and Army Commander Valerio Sibanda, among those who frequent the mines. The soldiers who were supposed to provide security have expanded into illegal yet officially sanctioned mining ventures of their own.

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