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01 july 2014

In Africa, particularly Zimbabwe and South Africa, a sizeable number of the black indigenous people have firm beliefs in ancestral spirits.

They believe that when a person dies, their spirit continues and can have influence on events in their families and the community.

The most important spirit elder is the deceased head of an extended family, and the surviving generations come together on ritual occasions to honour them.

The spirits are believed to inhabit a separate but parallel world, and often communicate with the living via a medium.

These people (mediums) are susceptible to possession by the spirits during a trance, when the spirit takes control of their body.

A traditional healer can divine and heal by the power of the spirit that possesses them.

However, in as much as the black indigenous accept as true that spirits can lead to one’s healing, they also believe that if one tries to treat the ancestors with derision, bad luck can befall that person like a tsunami.

Sickness, failure to secure employment after graduating fr om universities and colleges, infertility and constant involvement in road accidents by indigenous blacks, among other far-fetched misfortunes, are said to be indications that ancestral spirits are in pursuit of one’s life.

A famous Zimbabwean traditional healer Olly Masuku said people must honour their family ancestral spirits so they could open up success and prosperity gateways in their lives.

Honouring the ancestral spirits includes a traditional ceremony of communicating with the departed, among other traditional rituals, depending on the tribal cultures and customs across communities in the country.

However, Christians view ancestral spirits as demons that should be cast out in the name of Jesus Christ instead of entertaining them.

Diamond miners ‘angering ancestors’

Dear reader I deliberately gave you this background so you can have an appreciation of the spiritual standpoint that traditional leaders in Zimbabwe based their opinions regarding diamond mining in Marange recently.

So, traditional leaders in Zimbabwe are of the opinion that diamond mining operations in  Marange are facing various problems because the spirits were angry at government and mining companies for snubbing them and local cultures.

“You know, some of these things are spiritual. It is unfortunate that the government did not consult traditional leaders on how to extract the diamonds. The diamonds are on our traditional land. There are supposed to be rituals done first in order to appease the spirits,” the president of the Chiefs’ Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira was quoted as saying by The Standard newspaper.

 “The land belongs to us and the diamonds are ours. We are the ancestors of this land where diamonds lie on, but, the government decided to go it alone. Look now there are so many problems in Chiadzwa [Marange].

 “There are violations of cultural rites. Our ancestors are not happy because of the disrespect of their rights since they stay in a rich land, but are not benefitting fr om their ancestral land resources.”

Self-serving threats?

Another traditional leader, Chief Gilbert Marange said locals remained poor despite the discovery of the diamonds in their village.

“We demand that chiefs sit on the boards of mining firms in areas under their jurisdiction to ensure they bring development to their communities,” he said.

These revelations are interesting especially when one considers that the chiefs, instead of sticking to their demands of conducting the so-called rituals to appease the spirits, were also demanding to sit on boards of the diamond companies.

Diamond mining in Marange has proved lucrative for individuals, although the nation at large has not benefitted much from the gems.

Marange fields span 85,000 hectares and contain large deposits of alluvial and conglomerate diamonds.

Officials at some point told all and sundry that the gems would likely inject $2 billion into the economy annually.

But the reality percolated through as most people realised that they had been sold a dummy by the then mines minister ObertMpofu.

Just recently, Zimbabwe’s mines minister Walter Chidhakwa who replaced Mpofu last September, said the government would rather stop all diamond mining in Marange than let miners continue fleecing the country of millions of dollars through understating the real value of the stones they extract.

He said the government would not extend the tenure of the firms in Marange, some of whom were reluctant to go into underground mining preferring to concentrate on cheaper surface operations.

Harare is not ‘happy’ that the diamond miners are saying the quality of stones they are mining continues to go down and now want new concessions.

President Robert Mugabe said that he would want to see one or two companies mining diamonds in Marange from the current five.

It is such challenges of deteriorating alluvial diamonds on claims granted to the miners and truncated revenue, blamed on corruption and shadowy operations, that the traditional leaders are basing their argument of ancestral retribution.

They are quite firm in their belief, no matter how stupid it might sound to those that do not share their ‘archaic’ credence.

This clash between traditional beliefs and the disregard of transparency that has been characterising diamond mining in Marange is interesting.

The government is saying let us streamline operations to improve transparency, while the traditional leaders are saying appease the ancestors and your problems will go.

But wait a minute; they also want to sit on the company boards. Doing what? One wonders!

From wh ere I stand, it seems the traditional leaders discredited themselves the moment they asked to sit on the boards, as this gives a picture of people who are interested in lining their pockets while masquerading as vanguards of traditionalism.

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