Source: Human Rights Watch

Malvern Mudiwa is a business owner in eastern Zimbabwe. Nothing spectacular. But in a country where unemployment is said to be 95 percent, owning some small shops makes him a prominent member of his community. He has accepted that leadership role happily.

“I have a passion, a fighting spirit, fighting for my community, fighting for my own rights,” he said. “I think I was inspired most importantly by Nelson Mandela, who gave everything for his community.”

This would come in handy. In 2006, a British mining company found diamonds in Manicaland province. They were alluvial diamonds, meaning they were literally strewn across the topsoil. You could find them with a hand shovel. What followed were waves of insanity.

First, the government pulled the British company’s permit, ushering in a free for all. People came from all over the country to hunt for diamonds. By 2008, the system had regularized: permits, taxes, fences and security. But when people are starving and there are diamonds laying around, a fence is a small thing. Illegal mining continued until, that autumn, the government sent the air force.

It was just another night of diamond hunting until the helicopter swooped in. A machine gun sprayed bullets into the fleeing crowd as attack dogs picked off the slowest runners. Such massacres continued until more than 200 people were dead. This was the state’s mine-protection policy. Human Rights Watch and local civil society organizations intervened, raising awareness of the new blood diamonds. The killings stopped, but the madness continued.

Corruption was rampant, and the diamond companies paid no local taxes. They displaced villages. They hired workers and employed contractors based on political alliances. Meanwhile, diamond smugglers came from out of town, and a shadow economy blossomed moving diamonds out of Manicaland, through a chain of intermediaries to buyers in Mozambique. Drugs and murder accompanied the diamond mobsters, further degrading the community.

Everyone was making money off the Manicaland diamonds except the residents of Manicaland, who still had no jobs, poor schools and bad healthcare. And now they had an organized crime problem, too.

Mudiwa’s fighting spirit kicked in. Back in 2006, he’d begun organizing the community to advocate on behalf of the local residents. Over the next decade, this community group, called the Marange Development Trust after the name of the diamond field, had become a powerful player in Manicaland. But it still lacked the political clout to win consideration from the state company that now controlled sole access to the diamond mining.

“So we were left with no choice but to take them to court,” Mudiwa said.

The state company, called ZCDC, never fulfilled the requirements of an environmental impact assessment, which included consulting with local community members. With help from a national legal advocacy organization, the Marange Development Trust sued ZCDC, alleging it had no right to continue mining until it completed the assessment. On Aug. 1, the High Court of Zimbabwe (one step below the Supreme Court) sided with Mudiwa and ordered a halt to mining operations.

Mudiwa isn’t sure what will happen next, but he suspects the ZCDC will start to listen more closely to what the community has to say. I’ll keep you posted if I learn more.

Have a great week, everyone,

Ben


Do you enjoy reading this newsletter? Then you’ll love the magazine. Subscribe now to read past issues free for 14 days. After that you’ll start receiving magazines in the mail.

Sign up for a 14-day free trial.

SHARE
Ben Wolford
Ben Wolford is editor of Latterly. His reporting has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere.