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Villagers Evicted By Diamond Companies Go Hungry

Relocated Resident Arda TransauThey once lived on top of some of the world’s richest diamond fields. They were evicted. Now they are unemployed and starving.


To be sure, worse has happened in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry. In 2008, the Zimbabwean army seized control of newly discovered diamond fields in the country’s Marange district, gunning down more than 200 diamond diggers. The army then enslaved local adults and children in the diamond fields, keeping the profits.


Since then, conditions in the diamond fields have gotten better. Private companies now handle mining operations. Local residents are no longer being massacred or enslaved. But there are serious ongoing issues that shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored: violence against trespassers, corruption, and environmental degradation. Plus there’s the fate of the families who were evicted to make way for diamond mining and relocated to a government-owned farm.


How are those families doing? The latest news isn’t good. As of early September, the government and the mining companies were squabbling over who is responsible for ensuring that the 5,200 people relocated since 2010 are treated fairly. The government claims that the mining companies reneged on a signed agreement. The mining companies claim they already have fulfilled their end of the bargain. It’s unclear when the issue will be resolved.


In the meantime, it’s not necessary to imagine how the relocated residents are faring. A report issued earlier this year by the Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG), an advocacy group in Zimbabwe, gives a pretty comprehensive description. And its basic conclusion is: most of the residents are sinking deeper into abject poverty.


The report’s most alarming finding is that many of the evicted residents don’t have enough to eat. Mining companies initially made food deliveries to the new community of 1000 families. But then the companies decided they’d done enough. The food deliveries mostly stopped. People began to starve. Researchers found one 92-year-old man who had gone days without food. The man and his family were surviving on dirt from anthills mixed with salt and water. Adults and children in the community showed visible signs of malnutrition.


In other ways, the evicted residents have been dealt an unfair hand. Much of the promised housing in the new community hasn’t been built. Of the homes that exist, about half lack pipes for running water. A health clinic has no regular doctor; nor does it have electricity, which means that people must bring candles to visit the clinic at night. Schools are overcrowded, classrooms are flimsy and makeshift, and many children don’t attend school because their families can’t pay the school fees.


One underlying problem is that the relocated families haven’t been fairly compensated for being forced out of their homes. Under Zimbabwean law, the families don’t have any legal rights to the diamonds beneath their former homes. The residents do have a right to be compensated for the loss of their land and livelihood. But so far, aside from a $1000 “disturbance allowance” for each family, they haven’t been. Worsening the problem is that most families were forced to leave quickly, without a chance to document the value of their homes and assets. Now their old homes have been razed.


The loss of their former community has brought emotional trauma. (One reason for this, incidentally, is the likelihood that the mining companies have been extracting diamonds from unmarked family graveyards.) But without proper compensation, it also has been difficult for the families to invest in new businesses or farms. The quality of the land they have been resettled on doesn’t help. The land is so dry that there are few places for animals to graze. To support themselves, residents have been selling their livestock and chopping down trees from a nearby forest to sell as firewood.


Officially, Zimbabwe exported more than $500 million in diamonds in 2013. At Brilliant Earth, we strongly believe that the relocated families can and ought to be treated more fairly. For this reason, we funded an earlier effort by the CNRG’s leader, Farai Maguwu, to monitor the treatment of the evicted residents. The CNRG’s latest report builds on that work. We hope it persuades Zimbabwe’s government and the diamond mining companies to resolve their differences and take action.


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