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Reflecting on artisanal diamond mining in Africa

27 september 2021

The World Bank has estimated that there are more than 41 million people in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector across the globe.

The Resource World noted that there were more than 100 million artisanal miners globally in 2019.

ASM, it said, accounts for up to 20% of diamond mining.

ASM diamond mining is mainly done in Africa.

Although this sector in Africa had been associated with illegal diamond mining as some governments failed to provide technical support and create an enabling environment, De Beers is making a difference starting with the Kono District in Sierra Leone.

Through GemFair, De Beers started supporting the formalization of the ASM sector in 2018 by raising standards and opening up a new source of ethical diamond supply through the group’s industry-leading distribution channel.

It started with 14 member sites to create a secure route to market for ethically-sourced artisanal and small-scale diamonds.

GemFair programme manager Ruby Stocklin-Weinberg recently told Rough & Polished that the registered members working with De Beers in Kono have now grown to 160.

Through the miner training programme, they had trained a total of 1,049 individuals on fair labour standards and safer and environmentally responsible working practices.

In 2020 GemFair also entered into an MoU with the Mano River Union (MRU) and German Development Corporation (GIZ) to expand the ASM training programme in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

This collaboration will enable De Beers to build regional capacity on diamond fundamentals and valuation.

Angola

Informal diamond mining first erupted in Angola on a very large scale from September 1991, following the signing of the Bicesse Accords between the government and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) rebels as well as an agreement to hold the country’s first general elections.

Angola then passed a new diamond law in October 1991 that made it legal for Angolan citizens as well as individuals to possess and trade in diamonds acquired from areas outside mining concessions and sell through government-recognised buying offices.

UNITA rejected the United Nations supervised elections in 1992 and went on to seize the Cuango Valley and much of the Lundas.

UNITA briefly withdrew from the main mines in the Cuango Valley five years later but started attacking diamond projects in 1998.

The end of the civil war in 2002 brought some normalcy in the country, although no regulations existed for artisan mining until 2009.

Angola had more than 700 small diamond prospectors prior to operation transparency, which was launched in 2018 by the ministry of the interior.

Only 260 of them were said to have met the requirements to continue prospecting.

The Angolan government is now encouraging artisanal and semi-industrial cooperatives to become industrial companies by 2023.

Angop quoted the minister for mineral resources, Diamantino Azevedo, as saying last April that artisanal miners were also known as diamond co-operatives in Angola should be organised in a business way and pay tax if they are to continue operating.

DRC

The World Diamond Council (WDC) indicated a few years ago that it was working with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to improve the working conditions for artisanal miners within traceability standards proposed by the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI).

The central African country had 200,000 artisanal miners in 2018 that were registered by the (DDI) with the support of the ministry of mines.

Global Witness had a year earlier said the DRC had more than 700,000 artisanal miners.

The country passed a law in 1981 that forced Miniere de Bakwange (MIBA), a state-owned diamond mining company, to open up the majority of its fields to artisanal diggers.

This paved the way for artisanal mining of placer diamond deposits along the Bushimaïe and Lubilash tributaries to the Sankuru River (Bakwanga Mine) near the town of Mbuji-Mayi (formerly Bakwanga) in the Kasaï-Oriental province and along the Tshikapa River (Forminière Diamond Mine) in the Kasaï-Occidental province.

South Africa

South Africa had 220 small and junior diamond miners in March 2020, according to a report written by Nelson Mandela University geology graduate Sinazo Dlakavu published in August by the Africa Earth Observatory Institute, under the auspices of the Nelson Mandela University.

The sector used to have about 2 000 companies operating in South Africa in 2004.

Mining Weekly reports that the continued decline in the number of small and junior diamond miners was being felt in Namaqualand on the west coast of South Africa; the Northern Cape, including the historical diamond centre of Kimberley; and the North West province.

Policy and regulatory issues, safety and security as well as unreliable electricity supply were cited as factors that contributed to the significant decrease in the number of small miners over recent years.

Dlakavu said the South African government should make it easy for new entrants into the small and junior diamond mining industry to start a business starting with the development of a fit-for-purpose sector-focussed mining policy and associated regulations.

In 2018 the South African Department of Mineral Resources awarded two mining permits to thousands of artisanal miners, giving them legal access to 500ha of land in Kimberley, Northern Cape.

The miners known as zama-zamas, organised as the Kimberley Artisanal Mineworkers, had been illegally mining diamond fragments for sale on the parallel market from a site owned by the Kimberley Ekapa Mining joint venture.

Tanzania

In Tanzania, Petra Diamonds was forced to introduce an artisanal tailings project last February, where local community members will be able to exploit old tailings material at the Williamson Mine in Tanzania, in a formalised and controlled manner.

The diamond company made the decision to make amends after a UK-based law firm, Leigh Day, filed claims in the High Court of England and Wales last September on behalf of 32 anonymous individuals against Petra Diamonds and Williamson Diamonds.

The claim alleged that Petra and Williamson Diamonds are liable for human rights violations, personal injuries and deaths suffered by the anonymous individuals at and surrounding the Williamson mine, arising from the mine's security operations.

There had been ongoing illegal artisanal mining taking place at Williamson over some time, due to the challenges in securing the large perimeter of the Special Mining Licence area, which covers 30.6km2 including the main 146-hectare orebody, together with alluvial resources.

Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, artisanal diamond miners are mainly operating illegally, especially in the Eastern parts of the country.

Others are allegedly digging near the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC)’s licence area leading to their arrest by the company’s guards.

Mutare, about 60km to Marange, is home to scores of international dealers who buy diamonds from artisanal miners which they smuggle out of the country through Mozambique and South Africa, according to Zimbabwe’s Centre for Natural Resource Governance.

A study conducted by the Kimberly Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC) last year showed that smuggling of Zimbabwean diamonds to Mozambique by artisanal miners is on the rise following the closure of official border posts to curb the spreading of COVID-19.

"Also in Zimbabwe, artisanal miners indicated that regular buyers do no longer have money to trade, while new players are stepping in to buy at considerably reduced prices,” reads part of the report.

“While the formal market is being squeezed even further, this indicates that illicit actors may be stocking up on cheap artisanal diamonds, which they hope to sell with huge profits when the disruptions of international supply chains will be relaxed."

Reflection

Illegal diamond mining and trading are closely associated with artisanal miners in the most African countries, although efforts are being made to formalise their operations.

It is also helpful for established companies to take them under their wings, while governments are making it easier for them to acquire licences and claims.

Failure to do so means that illegal mining and trading will continue, which unfortunately does not benefit any government due to financial leakages.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished