By Michelle Graff
Harare, Zimbabwe--Zimbabwe’s mines minister has ordered a number of foreign companies to stop mining and vacate the country’s diamond-rich Marange fields because he says they are operating illegally.

On Monday, wire service Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Walter Chidhakwa as saying that the government was “taking over” mines in Chimaninami and Chiadzwa, where the Marange diamond fields are, from companies that are operating there without a license.

The government is asking the diamond companies--reported to total as many as nine--to cease operations, cooperate with the government and leave the diamond fields immediately.

On Wednesday, one of the deposed diamond companies that mines in Marange in partnership with the government fired back, threatening to sue the country for breach of contract.

Ramzi Malik, general manager of Diamond Mining Company, a 50-50 joint venture between United Arab Emirates-registered Pure Diamonds and the state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp., told Reuters that its joint venture contract with the government stipulates that it is the ZMDC’s responsibility to renew the mining licenses, and that the investment agreements were valid and indefinite.

He said the government is breaching their agreement by ordering a shutdown.

Reuters reported that DMC’s action could trigger other diamond mining companies to follow suit.

Though Tuesday’s announced shutdown of mining in Marange might have caught some by surprise, Chidhakwa (Cha-dock-kwa) has been publicly advocating for government control of the mines for the last two years, claiming that widespread smuggling is diverting diamond revenue from the country’s coffers.
One individual familiar with the situation indicated that the shutdown could be the beginning of an “ugly power struggle” that could bring violence back to the Marange diamond fields.

Marange was the area of Zimbabwe from which the Kimberley Process banned all rough exports between 2009 and 2011 due to reports of widespread human rights abuses of workers in the diamond fields.

With the United States abstaining, members of the KP voted to lift the ban in 2011, though certain entities involved in the export of diamonds from Marange remain under sanction in the U.S.

Already, reports are surfacing about theft and “illegal” artisanal miners entering the area following the recent shutdown.

“If this shutdown continues, you’ll see a return to the kind of lawlessness you saw in 2010,” the individual told National Jeweler. “I just see that rearing up again.”

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.