Ray Bande Senior Reporter
HUMAN rights activist Mr Farai Maguwu, who earned international attention by criticising Government’s Chiadzwa diamond mining operations, this week chided the United States for banning the importation of the Marange gems on the pretext that they were produced through forced labour.
The United States laid bare its uncontrolled appetite to suffocate Zimbabwe’s economy after it barred local diamonds from entering Washington on Monday claiming they were produced through forced labour.
Apparently, forced labour has never been an issue at Chiadzwa and other diamond mining areas around the country.
Maguwu, former executive director at Centre for Natural Resources Governance, took to social media platform Facebook expressing shock and exasperation over blatant US continued attempts to suffocate Zimbabwe’s economy.
“I wish to make it clear that as leader of one of the organisations doing human rights work in Marange, we are not aware of cases of forced labour in Marange.
“This is mainly because artisanal miners go to Marange voluntarily. We have raised serious concerns with human rights and artisanal miners and the wider Marange community but in our analysis these do not amount to forced labour. Our work is guided by high ethical standards and as such we would never issue unverified information,” wrote Maguwu on his Facebook wall.
The US Embassy Harare sent a seemingly celebratory tweet on Wednesday saying: “US Customs & Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order for artisanal rough cut diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields on Oct. 1, 2019 due to evidence of forced labour. US law prohibits importation of goods made with forced labour.”
After the Marange diamond fields were discovered in 2006, they were open to anyone, and illegal mining and smuggling flourished. Maguwu partnered with Human Rights Watch researchers to document <https://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/06/26/diamonds-rough-0> perceived human rights abuses that never, not even at one point, touched on forced labour
As he gained international acclaim over his criticism of Chiadzwa diamond mining operations, on several occasions and notably on May 25, 2010, Maguwu met with a monitor from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (the world’s diamond control body) to discuss the alleged abuses in Chiadzwa. He has in the past been praised for perceived tremendous courage in exposing abuses and violations of human rights in Zimbabwe’s diamond fields.
Meanwhile, Government, through the Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana, said it was dismayed by the US action which amounted to new sanctions on Zimbabwe’s diamond industry.
Mr Mangwana pointed out that Zimbabwe had not officially had a report on the alleged systematic forced labour, which is illegal under the country’s laws.
Said Mr Mangwana: “The Government of Zimbabwe is baffled by the decision of the United States of America to issue a so-called Withhold Release Order for rough labour.”
“This is a regrettable development because the reason the US authorities are citing, namely that Zimbabwean diamonds are being produced under forced labour, is a blatant and shameless lie that will surprise even cynics amongst us.
“Zimbabwe’s Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labour. We also amended the Labour Act in 2015 to ensure that it is aligned with the Constitution. As a Government we have a very strong revulsion towards any form of slavery or servitude,” said Mr Mangwana.
He added they have not received reports of forced labour and “definitely not of a systematic nature” that might arouse international sanction.
“Apparently, invoking the repulsive prospect of alleged forced labour is a new nomenclature for seeking to bar Zimbabwe’s diamonds from the international market after previous attempts to label Zimbabwean diamonds as blood diamonds failed,” said Mr Mangwana.
The US, together with some Western countries, urged on by local opposition forces, waged a spirited campaign against Zimbabwe’s diamonds with deliberate efforts invested towards manipulating the Kimberly Process and Certification Scheme (KPCS) to exclude and exclude Harare.
The US, which has slapped sanctions on 56 local companies and 65 individuals, remains determined to ensure the country’s economy continues to bleed.
Mr Mangwana said there was no doubt that the latest move by the US constitutes “a grave and serious attack on Zimbabwe’s interests and is no less a manifestation of undeclared sanctions that have hurt the economy”.