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Most Zimbabweans have been for some time caught up in a utopian world where diamonds are treated as a magic wand to solve the country’s economic misery.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) recently said proceeds from Marange diamond sales should be used to pay their salaries.

The union president Takavafira Zhou was quoted by SW Radio Africa as saying that the teachers would launch a “crippling” strike if their demands for higher pay and better working conditions are not met.

He said the discovery of the “wealthy” diamond deposits should have by now changed the welfare of civil servants.

‘[Marange diamonds] are not being harnessed by the government for the benefit of Zimbabwe or civil servants,” Zhou said.


Sadly some government officials had also been caught up in this diamond frenzy.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti projected revenue of $600 million from Marange diamond sales this year when he presented the 2012 national budget late last year.

The government, however, missed its revenue target by $244 million as at end of June with a large chunk being shortfalls on diamond dividends of $229.3 million.

This forced Biti to revise downwards the national budget last month by $600 million (a tacit acceptance that nothing will come out of the diamonds) to $3.4 billion.

When civil servants demonstrated against his failure to increase their salaries using the diamond revenue, Biti said he was not blame.

“If they are genuine workers who are genuinely interested in understanding why the economy is not moving, surely I would have rather thought the people they should be demonstrating against are the people that are stealing our money which is the diamond producers, in particular that Chinese company called Anjin,” he told journalists.

“I have no problem with the right to demonstrate, but I have a problem with politicians masquerading as trade unionists, and the hand of the CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation] that I see in this process.”

It seems Biti is so convinced that the diamonds were not playing a quick fix due to the siphoning of revenues by Anjin, which is regarded as the biggest diamond producer in Marange.

He said the company had not been remitting anything to the treasury, despite making super profits.

Anjin denied the minister’s claims, saying that it had remitted $30 million in diamond taxes to the government since last September.

“It is either he (Biti) is untruthful, incompetent or illiterate. He made the blunder and miscalculated. He must be man enough and admit that he made a mistake,” said Anjin board member Munyaradzi Machacha.

In all fairness, one cannot entirely deny possibilities of poor remittance of taxes and royalties to the government by miners in Marange.

Painful reality

However, the minister cannot go unchallenged with his high regard of diamonds as a fulcrum for Zimbabwe’s economic growth.

Biti has a tendency of citing international prices of high quality gems, as if they were the same prices that local gems were being sold for.

The truth of the matter is that Marange’s stones were of low quality compared to the ones produced in neighbouring Botswana.

The latest trade data released by the Kimberley Process showed that Zimbabwe exported 7.7 million carats in 2011 worth $422.9 million.

The report also showed that the local diamonds attracted an average price of $54.31 per carat.

If you compare that with Botswana’s average diamond price of $217.77 per carat it becomes quite palpable that the Zimbabwean stones (especially Marange) were of a poor grade and they would not bring much benefits to the country even if the perceived leakages were to be nipped in the bud.

Some media reports can blindly go to town with reports that Zimbabwe was in 2011, the third largest diamond producer in Africa after Botswana and DRC, but the reality was that a country like Namibia that trailed Zimbabwe in terms of production, recorded higher revenues from its gems.

Namibia exported 1.4 million carats in 2011 worth $800 million compared to Zimbabwe’s 7.7 million carats valued at $422 million.

This was a painful reality that most Zimbabweans do not know as they continue with their blissful ignorance over diamonds.

So, the sooner most people in Zimbabwe know about the real value of their diamonds - rather than phony figures constantly parroted in the media - the better.

This would also help generate debate on which other economic vistas the country can follow to help convalesce its comatose economy.

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