There is a very black hole on Zimbabwe’s diamond fields. Anjin Investments. And the hole gets bigger by the day.
You will remember that Anjin—a joint venture between the Zimbabwean army and a Chinese outfit, Anhui—was kicked off the Marange fields alongside a team of other miners in 2016 when Robert Mugabe was still alive and ruling. Anjin, in particular, was guilty of numerous sins.
It externalised hundreds of millions in good money back to China and other dark places around the globe. It was not paying tax and was conveniently forgetting to avail books of accounts. Its gem sales were mostly shrouded in secrecy. To be modest about it, Anjin looted Zimbabwe’s diamonds. Now, all this was against the law and, once you break the law, you are a criminal. It remains a mystery that its directors were never brought before the courts to answer for their criminality, but that’s an issue for another fireside yarn.
Anjin responded predictably—but desperately—to its eviction from Marange. It went to court. The venture lost all its court applications against its ban at the High Court, Supreme Court and then the Constitutional Court. That left it nowhere, so to speak, because there is no other court that it could appeal to after the Constitutional Court. International appeals were always going to be a long, long throw.
Then, when President Emmerson Mnangagwa nudged Mugabe out with the help of the army, Anjin, accurately, was on that long list of money externalisers that the new administration came up with and wanted to return all the mega-bucks. Of course, they hardly did anything with that long list afterwards. And, before the cynics could yap “coup!” Anjin crept back into Marange.
That was problematic because we never heard of any court reviews of the judgments that were made against Anjin. Government had promised a forensic audit of the evicted miners. Nothing of that sort ever happened. Well, it’s not like things ever happen in Zimbabwe. Unless, of course, they are bad things like Anjin.
The army-connected venture’s return was secretive. And it was controversial, if not criminal. The Zimbabwean people were prepared to go to bed on that, just as they are so much used to all other intransigencies and impunities in the public sector. But you know how things happen here. One bad thing leads to another, then another, and another, ad infinitum.
When the government decided to stop the near-dozen mining companies operating in Marange in 2016, it formed a merger, the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) that brought together a number of mining entities. It was, and remains, a government company. In essence, therefore, ZCDC is a people’s company, a public institution. In that regard, the decision to do a merger was excellent as, for once, Zimbabweans were bound to benefit economically from their own company.
So what happens next? When Anjin gets back, it goes ahead and takes over a diamond zone from ZCDC, our company. That’s portal B, the area where ZCDC has been getting most of its diamonds from. In other words, ZCDC lost its most lucrative diamond claim—the richest claim in Marange—to Anjin. What does that mean? Our most lucrative diamond field went to a private company without our consent nor knowledge.
The implications plough deeper. Everyone knows that ZCDC has been struggling to make ends meet right from the start. But we kept getting this hope that things would brighten up one day. That hope is completely gone now. If ZCDC was struggling with such a rich stretch of diamond deposits, it has quickly moved from the out-patients section to the intensive care unit. This is bad news to Zimbabwe and the new ZCDC CEO, Mark Mabhudhu who replaced a frustrated Roberto De Pretto last year.
The question, then, is: Why did the government allow a private company to wrest from it, its most valuable asset in the form of Portal B? That’s a question you will not find easy answers to, of course. If government was serious about the resuscitation of the economy, handing over Portal B to Anjin was going to be the last thing it would even think of. Remember, ZCDC was planning to reap some US$12 billion from diamond sales by 2023. Of course, that dream looked and sounded too lofty, but, at least, the merger was going to realise a billion dollars, and that would make some difference for the economy.
Isn’t it an irony that the president who the law says has the final say on all the minerals on and under the land balked against the move to take away from government, the richest diamond claim and then hand it over to a private entity jointly owned by people that salute him? And at the expense of the common economy and, ultimately, the people who so much yearn for hospitals, drugs, good food, schools, roads, clean water, shelter, etc. Is that not dereliction of duty and a deliberate neglect of the constitution?
It’s even worse when you consider Anjin’s dark past. There are slim chances that it will give to the Zimbabwean economy what it must under the law and on moral considerations. It didn’t do that in the first place, smuggling diamonds out of Zimbabwe with so much abandon, and got away with murder, literally. There is no good reason, therefore, to ever think that things will be different this time around.
Already, we are hearing of some attempts to do secret auctions of diamonds in Marange. Of course, it was never said which company attempted the secret and illegal sales. But there are telling anecdotes. The Anjin vaults are literally overflowing. The Anjin officials says it’s because global lockdowns are making it difficult to sell the gems, something which you can still take with a pinch of coarse salt. And we all know that Anjin can’t be trusted with diamonds.
Frankly speaking, the Zimbabwean army—through Matt Bronze, its special purpose vehicle that jointly owns Anjin with Anhui—must have been wiser here, as a significant stakeholder. The army is responsible for our security and sovereignty. Diamonds are a potentially good factor to stablise the economy. You know very well that when the economy is unstable, national security is compromised. And you know too well that when foreign interests are let to influence local dynamics, our sovereignty is also compromised.
Yes, the army may be seeing the lure of money in taking over Portal B and what not, but the national interest is more paramount. It’s not too late. As a 50 percent stakeholder, Matt Bronze can still cause a renegotiation of the matter around the ZCDC assets in Marange and take the shovels and picks to another place. Prospecting is still happening in the diamond fields and, the last time the experts checked, there were plenty of untapped diamonds in the bowels of Marange and other places. After all, it has never been clear why Anjin was let to take an existing claim when it could still expand to other unmined areas, in addition to its two old claims.
But, when all is said and done, the buck stops at central government’s doorstep. ZCDC is its own baby and it mustn’t let it starve to death like that.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), and can be contacted on email@example.com