- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

MARANGE, Zimbabwe — A British-listed mining company, the first to invest in bankrupt Zimbabwe since the political crisis began, has been ordered off its valuable diamond claim.

Though President Robert Mugabe has seized thousands of white-owned farms since 2000, he has left mining property alone, up until now.

The claim, an extraordinary chunk of ancient tribal land in southeastern Zimbabwe, may be one of the richest diamond fields found in recent years — and the Zimbabwe government wants it.

African Consolidated Resources (ACR), with about 1,000 claims in Zimbabwe, listed in London in June and said it was granted title by the Ministry of Mines. The government issued the order to leave the dry, poverty-stricken Marange district, about 200 miles southeast of Harare, after months of drama.

When rumors of diamonds spread during the summer, thousands flocked there from all over Zimbabwe and neighboring countries in what may have been the largest diamond rush in Africa in the past 100 years.

Company officials estimate $235 million in diamonds were dug out by desperate people over the last few months. Dirk Benade, 57, an ACR geologist, saw it all.

“As the hordes massed, they dug deep holes within a [yard] of one another,” he said. “There were no toilet facilities. People were buying water with diamonds and sleeping in the holes which they also used as latrines. The air was thick with flies.

“Between 6,000 and 15,000 people moved 1 million tons of earth by hand in a 1.4-square-mile area in a month. World-class machinery couldn’t have moved what they did,” said Mr Benade.

One of the diggers, Sabo Sauke, 31, told the Daily Telegraph:

“One man was murdered for diamonds in the hills behind us, and a woman died after a huge baobab tree fell on her after soil around its roots had been dug away.”

Mr. Sauke, like all of the diggers, was pressed to sell his stones to the state’s Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe at a fraction of their real value.

As the hygiene conditions continued to deteriorate, Tinos Rusere, the deputy mining minister, went to the site on Sept. 25 and told swarms of diggers to carry on mining and sell their stones to the government.

Dealers from neighboring South African also appeared, offering better prices.

ACR has built roads and refurbished dams for the local community and, when the diggers were finally moved out of the area by police last week, the company began sifting gravel to estimate how much had been looted.

But the eviction order, which the company is challenging in court, was issued on Friday.

“I don’t believe Zimbabwe would allow illegal seizure of claims without due process,” said Andrew Cranswick, 44, ACR’s chief executive.

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