Government’s widely condemned move to evict thousands of villagers from Chilonga to pave way for Lucerne grass farming has been further mired in controversy amid reports the area has rich diamond deposits which will be mined under the cover of dairy production, Zim Morning Post has heard.
Bankrolled by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s long-time ally Neville Coetzee, officials say the project is key to rebuilding Zimbabwe’s dairy industry but a recent order for eviction has been resisted by Chilonga community leaders and human rights groups.
A Masvingo magistrate on Friday granted temporary relief to the Chilonga community with the State given until 31 March to give valid reasons why the community must be displaced from their ancestral homeland.
The Chilonga project, Government has said, will increase farm output across the Lowveld by drawing irrigation water from Tugwi-Mukosi, the country’s largest inland dam.
However, sources say the bigger picture for political elites and their cronies is the rich kimberlite deposits in the area.
An aero-magnetic survey commissioned by the Government through the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development in 2019 established diamond and gold deposits in Mwenezi and Chiredzi.
The surveyed block for diamonds, done by Aero Surv Zimbabwe in partnership with South African firm Xcalibur Airborne Geophysics, is said to have covered about 8 800km stretching over Ngundu, Rutenga and other parts of Mwenezi.
“Huge diamond deposits were discovered around the Chingwizi area in Mwenezi while gold was found in northern Chikombedzi following an aero-magnetic survey commissioned by the Government,” Masvingo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Ezra Chadzamira told State media in June 2020.
“The Ministry of Mines will outline the next course of action after this discovery, but we are excited as a province because this will help grow our provincial Gross Domestic Product and also help the nation achieve its target to make mining a US$12 billion industry by 2023,” added Minister Chadzamira.
Impeccable sources told Zim Morning Post that a huge cover up could be unfolding with thousands of families on the brink of paying the price of being displaced to ensure the grand plan is completed.
“These guys know the geographical distribution of minerals including the number of kimberlite pipes and dykes in Zimbabwe and they spend days and nights strategizing how to take over. They forge alliances with those in the corridors of power so that land is parcelled to them,” said an insider.
“The political elites then brainwash the ancestral inhabitants with the same rhetoric, that of employment creation, building of schools, boreholes, dams and all other social amenities lacking in the targeted area.”
Former Higher and Tertiary Education deputy minister, Godfrey Gandawa believes there is no “credible economic argument for evicting 12,500 people to make way for a project that can be done elsewhere, or by the present inhabitants of the land.”
“Growing lucerne is not complex and local farmers are well up to the task. So why evict them? Government has not demonstrated the public interest served by taking land from 12,500 people only to hand it over for a low-investment project like growing lucerne. Worse still, such a project only serves the interests of a single company that happens to be friends with Mnangagwa,” he wrote on his twitter account.
Zimbabwe has more than 130 known kimberlite pipes and dykes, which occur in clusters and the South East Lowveld is believed to be endowed with such deposits.
The observation triggers memories of MDC top official Roy Bennet (late) who allegedly looted diamonds under the guise of agricultural projects at Charleswood farm in Chimanimani.
The value of diamonds plundered by Bennet is unknown. No official exploration took place.
Elsewhere, multi-millionaire Billy Rautenbach of Greenfuel used his strong political links to take over Chisumbanje with the Government evicting thousands of villagers who traditionally relied on cotton farming, to pave way for the project.
At law, the Government can evict people and resettle them to pave way for projects of national importance.
Terrence Danda, an Australian based political commentator, said the Chilonga takeover awakens memories of the diamond rush at Chiadzwa in Manicaland where locals were left poorer and political elites walked away richer.
“The move by the government is a direct attack on the Chilongo people’s rights and it plunges them into a serious identity crisis as they are evicted and resettled in a land with alien culture and tradition,” he said.
“We saw this happening in Chiadzwa, where military chiefs and politically connected individuals controlled the diamond looting syndicate with some of them even cordoning off diamond rich areas. Remember names like kwa Mai Mujuru even existed in reference to the former Vice President Joice Mujuru who had her reserved area to plunder. This is the same direction we are heading,” Danda added.
Meanwhile, Zim Morning Post has been informed that a high powered delegation of top government officials is said to have held a series of meetings with traditional chiefs in the area.