Harare – Panners are paying police officers just $10 to be allowed to sneak into Zimbabwe’s contested Chiadzwa diamond fields after several firms mining there were abruptly ordered out, it was reported on Friday.
The Manica Post newspaper, which is published in nearby Mutare, quoted local chief Headman Chiadzwa saying: “We are concerned because police are being paid $10 to allow panners to sneak into the diamond fields. This should stop.”
The Herald newspaper said on Thursday that 50 villagers were arrested between Monday and Wednesday for illegal activity in the fields, which are in the east of the country.
President Robert Mugabe’s government on Monday ordered firms who have been mining in Chiadzwa for several years to leave. Initial reports said eight were affected by the order, but on Friday only four were named.
Varying reasons have been given for the order.
Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo said on Twitter that the firms had been operating “lawlessly without a licence”.
However, state media has also claimed that the firms had refused to merge into a single entity as directed by the authorities.
Marange Resources, which is 100% government owned, is still operating in Chiadzwa.
The reports will revive memories of the chaos that followed the discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa, when villagers were told the gems were a gift from the ancestors and allowed to mine them.
Thousands of people descended on the area, children abandoned their schools (as did some teachers) and some locals found instant, previously undreamed-of wealth.
A few months after Mugabe was returned to power in controversial elections in March and June 2008, the military was sent into Chiadzwa to wrest back control.
Rights group says up to 200 villagers and panners were killed.