Diamonds- until death do us part

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Blood Diamond” before. Possibly you’ve seen the film. And if you’re even vaguely familiar with the subject, you’d probably wish you didn’t know that beneath the sparkle of a ‘girl’s best friend’, lies a very unsettling contradiction.

In Zimbabwe, like in many parts of Africa, diamonds are seen as a major money making opportunity. But it is an opportunity that comes at a high price. As the value of mined diamonds has grown, so has the potential for conflict and exploitation. And so the dream of the thousands, who move to the Marange diamond fields (near Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique) in the hope of riches, soon becomes a disquieting reality. Here’s a glimpse:

 “The young men stand at the roadside shaking. The youngest, weeping with fear, shouts and pleads with his captors. His mouth is foaming. He knows that this is just the beginning of his torment. Handcu­ffed together and forced to lean against a baobab tree, their trousers at their ankles, blood streams down their buttocks – a common sight in war zones: a humiliation and a warning to others”.

This boy’s freedom was taken for a frosty-grey stone no bigger than a newborn’s thumbnail. Him and many others like him, are suffering because of the vast Marange diamond fields (at 400 square miles- possibly the world’s biggest) in a country with hyper-inflation and at the hands of a corrupt dictator.

A few years ago, Zimbabwe’s huge rate of inflation made army wages almost worthless and soldiers rioted. Without military backing, Mugabe faced losing power, so he put mining operations under the direct control of the army. This helped pay their wages, keep him in power and allowed the military to enslave villagers as miners and take the profits.

The army set up Operation ‘No Return’ in 2008. With a ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy, it helped take control and killed opportunistic miners. Helicopter gun ships were used to control the fields and as many as 10,000 villagers living nearby were relocated, many recruited at gunpoint and forced to dig. Both those who come at risk and those recruited, are forced to work at gun-point by the army. The guns are fixed with spikes, the points of which are used to ‘encourage’ production. Jona says ‘We have no choice but to do this…The soldiers rounded us up in the night and they have threatened to kill our families. It’s always the diamonds. What do they mean to people in the West? What do they mean to you when my people…are dead men walking?’ 

Marange is full of industry abuses that the Kimberley Process (a certification scheme to regulate diamond trade) was created to protect the industry against. Yet blood diamonds still enter the global market and it is hard to tell which ones are tainted. A recent report estimates between $30 and $54 million dollars of diamonds from mines with horrific human rights abuses to be auctioned off into the international market.

Last year, as the Kimberley Process review panel prepared to rule over Zimbabwe’s future as an exporter of gems, a Live magazine investigation uncovered shocking first-hand evidence of the violent enslavement of miners. This was weeks after the Zimbabwean government assured the world its diamonds were ethical and months before they claim to have pulled soldiers out of the mining fields. There have been various reports over the last year with claims the problem is still rife; read one here

What can you do?

As part of our ACT campaign , you could:

  • Write to Kimberley process states including China, Russia and Switzerland telling them they need to act to end trafficking and forced labour in the diamond pipeline. You can find a sample letter here:

  • Urge consumers to ask retailers about the source of diamonds and request conflict-free proof.

You can read the report that was submitted to the Kimberley Process review panel here:

Read more here:


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