A RIGHTS activist, who more than six years ago was incarcerated for trying to block the country’s admission into the elite league of diamond-selling nations, says he feels vindicated by President Robert Mugabe’s recent admission that diamonds worth more than US$15 billion were looted.
Farai Maguwu spent more than a month in prison for raising the red flag at the height of the scramble for diamonds in Zimbabwe’s Marange area.
In a belated birthday interview broadcast by the State-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on March 5, President Mugabe admitted that the country had lost vast sums of money in potential diamond revenue as a result of rampant smuggling and corruption.
“We have not received much from the diamond industry at all. I don’t think we exceeded US$2 billion, yet we think more than US$15 billion has been earned… lots of smuggling and swindling has taken place, and the companies that have been mining, I want to say, robbed us of our wealth,” President Mugabe said in the interview.
The President made the admission to justify the current controversial move under which his government is taking over all diamond mining operations in Zimbabwe.
Maguwu said apart from information that was released by the organisation he then headed, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), there were several other reports that corroborated allegations of wanton looting and human rights abuses in Marange.
The Human Rights Watch published two of the reports, while another three were published by Partnership Africa Canada.
“There were several reports both local, including by CNRG, and international. Perhaps the most important reports were from the then minister of finance, Tendai Biti, during the government of national unity. If the President was lied to by his officials, then he has the backing of the 14 million Zimbabweans if he chooses to institute legal proceedings against those who misled him . . . Regarding other government actors, I feel (personal) greed overcame patriotism,” said Muguwu.
“I contend that the people pulling the wagons of the State are now working against the national interest and helping to promote foreign interest at the expense of the people they swear under oath to serve faithfully. If they did, they would not have helped foreigners plunder their country at a time the economy was at its lowest, at a time the people of Zimbabwe were most vulnerable even to medieval but curable diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Marange was supposed to be God’s answer to the people of Zimbabwe, but it became a curse. They didn’t listen to advice because they were determined to loot at whatever cost.”
In early June of 2010, Maguwu was arrested shortly after he had met Abbey Chikane, the South African representative of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) — the world’s diamond controlling body — and shared with him information on human rights abuses his organisation had discovered in Marange.
He faced serious charges of providing what the Harare authorities claimed was false information about killings, rape and torture by State security agents in the diamond fields.
He spent more than a month in detention during which time he was tortured and transferred from one police cell to another.
Maguwu was released in July of that year, only to be cleared of all the charges, three months later.
However, the negative reports did not stop Zimbabwe from being admitted to the KPCS, where it went on to export its diamonds until the surface gems got exhausted.
Maguwu said while he is happy to finally get vindicated, he is, however, sad that Zimbabwe is still struggling as an economy, when some individuals who took part in the looting frenzy are enjoying the best of life.
“Yes, I feel vindicated but that’s an understatement.
“I feel grieved that if only the stolen US$15 billion had been channelled to the fiscus some lives that we have lost could have been saved, some industries that are shut could be operational and some jobs would have been preserved, Zimbabwe’s economy could be on the path to recovery,” Maguwu said.
Zimbabwe, which is struggling to fund its US$4 billion annual budget, owes international creditors more than US$10 billion.
Ranked one of the poorest in the world, government is currently struggling to meet basic obligations such as paying salaries of civil servants and providing social services like health and education to its citizens.
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