The Diamond Deal: ZANU-PF & DeBeers

Zimbabwe:
Since 1980, ZANU-PF has managed a country rife with poverty.

Land is regarded as a chance at prosperity. Mugabe has long-promised land to the rural poor as part of his political platform. In 1998, he allowed for the hostile takeover of thousands of smallholder white-owned farms by ‘war veterans’ and squatters. This was in response to physical threats against him and the regime by a large mob which demanded land and recompense for their service to the party and the revolution. A payout of $222 million dollars was granted, but the President declared his hands tied on the subject of land.

Curiously, the largest white-owned plots, such as the Oppenheimer Estate—often referred to as “the size of Belgium” and owned by DeBeers heirs—received state protection. (BBC News, 2001) In the course of political navigation, President Mugabe allowed the Oppenheimers and Anglo American, (the parent company of DeBeers) to keep its properties in 2002. The mining conglomerate, operated out of South Africa, manages a complete monopoly on the global diamond trade.

The Oppenheimer’s also own large tracts of land that aren’t mined, and like their family estate in Zimbabwe, they negotiated to have their land ‘protected’ as nature preserves, where they offer safaris and game hunting to Western tourists. But for all purposes, they control the land they claim to conserve only because they are diamond rich, and it is in this manner, the Oppenheimers, DeBeers, and Anglo American control the supply and price of diamonds on the global market.

Nicky-Oppenheimer

Nicky Oppenheimer

The landholding is the result of buying out competition which could potentially introduce their diamonds into the global market. The myth of diamonds as ‘rare’ is DeBeers created, and it is well understood that there are alluvial diamond fields throughout southern Africa, and anywhere there is dormant volcanoes and superheated carbon. However, flooding the market would depress their bottom line. (Reynolds, 1994)

With the find of the Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, Mugabe has found a means of leverage against Anglo American. If Zimbabwe were to nationalize their diamond industry, in a manner similar to neighboring Botswana, it could lead to revenue for the country, theoretically, to apply to public education, infrastructure, and health. Given the abundance of diamonds in the Zimbabwean soil, this action would depress the value of Anglo American’s diamonds.

ZANU-PF supervised “diamond rushes” in the region where hundreds of panners dig in competition, selling their finds to the government, before those methods received international sanction.  More recently, ZANU-PF has also contracted Chinese companies for more professional digs. To avoid sanctions and the label of “black market” or “blood diamonds,” the Zimbabwean diamond effort is forced to negotiate within a framework of trade controlled by DeBeers.

Since the beginning of “legal” Zimbabwean diamonds, ZANU-PF has managed this “Kimberly Process” under the eye of Obert Mpofu. From the Matabeleland region, a place where most supported the ZAPU party at independence, Mpofu changed his support to ZANU-PF in the 1980s. He entered politics, eventually being appointed Governor of Matabeleland by Mugabe in 2000.  Mpofu acquired transport and safari tour companies—facing accusations of smuggling and unsanctioned digging—and then land and banks, creating himself a diamond trade path similar to the origins of DeBeers, over a hundred years earlier.

Obert-Mpofu1-1

Obert Mpofu “The King of Matabeleland”

Since acquiring his position, Mpofu has himself become rich, investing in land. In western Zimbabwe, his holdings come second only to the Oppenheimer family, making him easily one of the top five landowners in the country. “Like many of his ZANU brethren…” Partnership Africa Canada notes “Mpofu built much of his wealth through “vulture capitalism”—a money for nothing appropriation of profitable businesses and/or assets that are later “legitimized” through normal business activity.” (Taylor, 2012)

Could this be a ploy of ZANU-PF to settle the land matter, by purchasing it with illegal diamond profits? It looks to be one man’s attempt at patronage, power, and riches. Mpofu is often described as owning half of Matabeleland , referring to himself as the “King of Matabeleland.” In addition to his land holdings, he is said to have the largest cattle herd in the country, and a “patronage network unparalleled by any of his political peers.” His wealth and ego began to intensify after the international sanctions on Zimbabwean diamonds were removed. He was appointed Minister of the Mines in 2009.

As guardian of the Marange diamond fields, Mpofu’s new wealth has been viewed with suspicion, as revenues to the state consistently fall short of projection, profoundly impacting national budget planning. Revenue transparency is practically non-existent in regards to this national resource. Missing money means breaks in that “breaks in that country’s internal controls, including the reality that there is an illegal, parallel trade underway.” (Taylor, 2012)

anglo-american-191b4a9fbb36c026f80c84dcbe81837bZANU-PF was allowed to reenter the global diamond market because they developed a Kimberly/DeBeers approved program to sell their diamonds.

However, this process does not protect against shrinkage and ‘shortfall’. ZANU-PF has also accumulated massive amounts of surplus, strong-arming the diamond industry into negotiations and contractual favors, as well as bribes.


The Oppenheimers maintain their millions of acres around southern Africa, a legacy of the family’s history in the global diamond empire. Mugabe remains President of Zimbabwe, and Mpofu, the King of Matabeleland.

A status quo. “There is a process of discussion between Nicky Oppenheimer and the Zimbabwean government,” according to an Oppenheimer family spokesman. “We don’t believe the seizure of land is imminent or on the agenda.” (Taylor, 2012) If confiscation were on the agenda, it would be high ranking ZANU-PF biting the hand that feeds them. It remains to be seen if Mugabe’s rhetoric will remain racialized, blaming the white farmer, when in fact, the issue lies with the multinational.

As a need for land exists, much of it goes fallow, and the farmworker unemployed. Coercion and violence by the gang-like organization managing the country has ruined the nation, as ZANU & DeBeers profit on a racist half-true fiction: the mythical land issue. 

REFERENCES:

BBC News. (2001, November 9). Zimbabwe clash with oppenheimer dynasty. BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1646977.stm

Chenault, K. (1998, February 15). A move to grab white owned land..may land mugabe in deep trouble. Bloomberg Businessweek, Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/stories/1998-02-15/a-move-to-grab-white-owned-land-dot-dot-dot-may-land-mugabe-in-deep-trouble-intl-edition

Reynolds, B. (Producer) (1994). The diamond empire [Television series episode]. In PBS Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4c1p_DMkIw

Martin, Alan and Bernard Taylor. (2012, November). Reap What You Sow: Greed and Corruption in Zimbabwe’s Marange Diamond Fields. Partnership Africa Canada. Retrieved from http://www.swradioafrica.com/Documents/Reap%20What%20Sow%20a.pdf

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