FEATURE | Broken houses, broken promises: villagers still in poverty near massive Marange diamond fields

Alice Gama looks at cracks on the wall of her house in Arda Transau (Image: Linda Mujuru, GPJ Zim)

By Anna Majavu

More than 14 years after being forcibly relocated from their ancestral villages to make way for mining in one of the world’s largest diamond-producing projects, residents of Arda Transau are still living in dire poverty.

Across the 567-kilometre-wide terrain of diamond fields and mines, known as Marange, that have sold at least 76 million carats of diamonds since 2010, government promises for housing and compensation have not yet been settled.

After the precious stones were discovered in the district in 2006, more than 35,000 people moved to the area to dig and pan as artisanal miners or buy and sell the gems along with foreign companies. But in November 2008, the Zimbabwean government controversially took control of the mining fields and deployed the military in the Mutare and Chiadzwa diamond field areas.

By 2009, about 1,500 families were forcibly removed from the area and relocated to Arda Transau, 40 kilometers away in new houses built by Anjin Mining Investments, a joint venture between a Chinese firm, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group (AFECС), and the Zimbabwean military’s investment company, Matt Bronze.

The government and Anjin promised the families jobs in the mines, three-bedroom homes, electricity, running water, tarred roads, half a hectare of land with irrigation systems, schools, a clinic, seeds, fertilizer and food delivery every three months. The families, previously farmers and dependent on the land for their livestock, were also to receive help starting piggeries.

However, soon after they moved in, the walls in the new homes in Arda Transau began cracking.

Water supply became irregular, the irrigation systems did not materialise, and the families were paid US$1,000 as a relocation allowance – an amount many relocated people say is too little for the assets, homes, land and lifestyle they lost.

Twelve years later, the situation has worsened considerably, says James Mupfumi, the director of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD)

“These houses were a rushed project done by the company without involving the department of public works, who inspects houses to make sure they are up to standard,” says Mupfumi. “Schools were built as promised, but they were not big enough to accommodate all the children who were moved there.”

A house falling apart with cracks in Arda Transau (pic: Africa Press)


Mining still occurs in villages, such as Tarindwa, Farikai, Betera, Chiadzwa and Chirasika, where people still live, and on some private farms after it proved too difficult to relocate everyone out of the Marange area, says Mupfumi. The 26,000 people still living in the diamond mining area are now subjected to emergency provisions under the Protected Places and Areas Act.

This law allows the government to declare an area to be a “protected place” subject to emergency powers. The military sets up a presence inside the villages and demands pass cards or permits from people to prove that they are authorized to be there. The army, or anyone authorized by the government, are given powers to search and detain people and to remove them from the area. 

A poorer life

Families left behind 5 hectares of communal grazing land near rivers and baobab trees whose fiber they had used to make rugs to sell, and were compelled to live in small houses on dry and arid individual plots that could not sustain crops or raise livestock. Their original homes had 8 to 12 rooms and huts to accommodate large families and relatives.

According to Newman Chiadzwa, chairperson of the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (CCDT), the value of the homesteads villagers were forced to leave ranged from US$60,000 to US$200,000 depending on their size.

“The people have never been compensated to those levels,” says Chiadzwa.

In the villages, grandparents, parents and their married children lived together. But when the families were forced to move to Arda Transau, many young married couples were not given their own houses, and had to crowd into the tiny units with their older relatives. Some of these couples later occupied a number of houses that had been left vacant by the government-owned company, Marange Resources, but have no land tenure and are regularly threatened with eviction, says Proud Nyakunu, the legal officer of the Marange-based Zimbabwe Allied and Diamond Workers Union (ZIDAWU).

“The mines have failed us. Our 10-year-old houses are so dilapidated; they look 100 years old,” she says.

The schools built in Arda Transau for the forcibly relocated Chiadzwa communities are not big enough, leaving many children with no option but to learn in makeshift classrooms. Image courtesy of New Zimbabwe.

The schools built in Arda Transau for relocated Chiadzwa communities (pic: New Zimbabwe)

According to Lloyd Sesemani, a resident of Arda Transau and a programs manager at the community-based organization, Zivai Community Empowerment Trust (ZICET), residents have no space to graze their animals.

“We are forced to live a town life, buying tomatoes, onions and grain, whereas we were used to a rural lifestyle,” says Sesemani.

The community came from a communal land where they could rear cattle and grow crops. Marange’s ground is fertile and there were a lot of ways for them to derive a livelihood, Mupfumi adds. “They were at peace in their communal land because it had forests, it had fruits, it provided them with a source of life far better than what they have now.”

Because the houses built by Anjin were never electrified relocated, people have been using firewood leading to massive deforestation in the area for firewood, Nyakunu explains.

A nearby river, the Odzi River, which is used by the community as a source of water mainly for washing and small-scale gardening, is polluted by “rampant artisanal mining” nearby by locals now looking to increase their income and escape poverty. The result has been soil washing into the river and silting it up.

The primary source of clean water, a borehole in the village, experienced frequent power disruptions and was deemed unsafe for human consumption by health officials. In April 2020, the High Court ruled for the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) to provide enough electricity to power the borehole even when Anjin Mining Investments did not pay. However, power for the borehole again went down in March this year.

“The mine plays a blame game – if you ask them about the water, [Anjin Mining Investments] shift the blame and say they’ve already paid the government for that and that they are only here for business,” Nyakunu explains.

Still awaiting compensation

In 2016, then-president Robert Mugabe ruled that foreign-owned diamond companies would have to merge with the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company, give 51% of their shares or leave the country. The companies swiftly departed Zimbabwe with Anjin Investments leaving after losing a high court case against this new ruling. But after pulling off a successful coup against Mugabe in 2017, Emmerson Mnangagwa became president seven months later and repealed the rule, bringing Anjin Investments back to Marange in 2020 and granting them a new diamond mining concession.

In the meantime, only US$5 million was given to the community trust to build boreholes and new classrooms, which were eventually never completed.

However, according to the Centre for Research and Development, this money was again swallowed by corruption.

“There are 87 wards in the Mutare district who are affected by mining. Just one ward has 15 schools, so that money was almost nothing,” Mupfumi tells Mongabay. “There was also corruption and a lot of projects that were started were not completed. We can safely say the money did not make a difference.”