In Zim, stolen diamonds are the unemployed’s best friend

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In Zim, stolen diamonds are the unemployed’s best friend

Three men have been arrested after a heist at a mine where workers haven’t been paid because of lockdown

Lenin Ndebele
A worker holds a rough diamond from Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields.
IN HAND A worker holds a rough diamond from Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields.
Image: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Thirteen men, allegedly armed with machetes and guns, are said to have broken into a diamond mine in Zimbabwe last week and made off with six 50kg bags of diamond concentrate.

Sources at the mine told Sunday Times Daily that the gang cut through a perimeter fence of the mine on Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa diamond fields on October 13.

The diamond fields fall under the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), a government-owned operation which recently rehired Mark Mabhudhu as CEO, a job he held in 2016. He replaced South African Roberto de Pretto.

The company’s spokesperson, Sugar Chagonda, said three of the alleged robbers, one of whom was a casual worker at the mine, had been arrested.

Chagonda said the diamond miner’s “vigilant, around-the-clock” security officials fired warning shots at the intruders. He said they left with nothing, but sources claimed they got away with six bags of ore.

Our security detail is thorough. They fired warning shots to scare the robbers away and then chased them. 
Sugar Chagonda, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company

“Our security detail is thorough. They fired warning shots to scare the robbers away and then chased them. The three who were caught are in custody after appearing in court. They are cooperating with the police,” he said.

According to the mine’s internal investigations, the gang wanted leftover mining material that had been processed to try to reprocess for diamonds that could have been missed, Chagonda said.

The first known robbery at the mine was on November 29 2017, just after the coup that removed late president Robert Mugabe. Four armed men allegedly entered the diamond fields with the aid of six suspected soldiers, in full military gear and brandishing AK47 assault rifles, with an estimated 30 illegal miners in tow.

The same gang was alleged in court to have returned on March 24 2018 using the same method, with suspected members of the army and police. But it was during the third robbery that a tip-off led to their arrest on April 4 2019. The alleged ring leaders are on US$500 (about R8,000) bail.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe at the end of March, operations were halted at the diamond fields. An auction to foreign buyers was abandoned because of global restrictions on travel, resulting in workers being five months behind on salaries.

This has resulted in increased looting of the diamond fields.

In September, state-controlled weekly newspaper Manica Post reported that senior police officers in the area had allegedly become illegal diamond couriers working in networks that involve workers from the company and illegal panners. Two police officers have since been arrested.