Sese’s gem war: Inside villagers’ feud with Murowa Diamonds
George Maponga in Masvingo
The Sese area, that stretches from the west to east deep in the belly of the Chivi rural heartland, nearly 60km south of Masvingo city, is a land of great potential.
This is not least because of its strategic location as Sese is bisected by the Chirundu-Harare-Beitbridge highway.
The highway is famed as the main artery for commerce.
It links Zimbabwe, and the sub-regional African hinterland, with South Africa — the continent’s most industrialised economy.
Sese is special, too, because of its mountainous topography which accrues importance when juxtaposed with the nearby Tugwi-Mukosi Dam.
Tugwi-Mukosi, a tourism spectacle in its own right, is the country’s largest interior water body with vast irrigation potential across rural Chivi and the length and breadth of southern Masvingo.
Scenic places like Sese that are within the huge reservoir’s vicinity can draw positive economic dividends from that proximity.
With its good soils, Sese has also been under the radar as a possible destination of Tugwi-Mukosi irrigation water as crafting of the dam’s development master plan reaches the home stretch.
Yet, Sese is currently a source of a gruelling war of attrition pitting its inhabitants and one of the country’s only four firms that are allowed to mine diamonds in Zimbabwe, under the country’s diamond policy.
RZM Murowa Pvt (Ltd), commonly known as Murowa Diamonds, has nearly 200 mining claims in Sese, the majority of which are believed to harbour high-value diamonds.
The claims are home to kimberlite pipes that Murowa is drilling to establish whether they are diamondiferous, and if yes the commercial viability of exploiting the resource.
Results will inform whether to start full scale mining in Sese.
Exploration work has been going on since at the various claims in the Sese area beginning 2018.
It is this ongoing exploration work centred mainly on Mashamhanda and Zhara village in Sese that has set restive villagers on a collision course with the diamond miner.
Ironically, Murowa also operates a diamond mine in Mazvihwa communal lands across Runde River in neighbouring Zvishavane district.
The diamond-rich kimberlites in Zvishavane are thought to extend to Sese in Chivi hence the ongoing exploration.
The tiff between the Sese folk and Murowa has been simmering from the time the latter started exploration.
It only played out in the open at the beginning of this year with villagers upping the tempo through staging a series of flash demonstrations. They demanded that the gem miner leave their area.
At the core of the stand-off between the two sides has been allegations that Murowa’s countenance towards the Sese community is filled with disdain.
The community accuses Murowa of having a condescending attitude towards them. They say Muroiwa has been refusing to engage to iron out an array of sticking issues behind the parties’ ostensible estrangement.
Sese Community Development Trust secretary Mr Musiiwa Musiiwa is unequivocal in his demand that Murowa should pack its bags and leave their ancestral land.
The Sese trust was formed to coordinate efforts to make sure locals do not get a raw deal from Murowa and also to steer other developments in the area.
“This company (RZM Murowa) is not honest and we don’t trust whatever promises it makes. It betrayed our trust when it repeatedly refused to engage us from the time it came here in 2018 to do exploration, which the company said would only last a few months. It’s now over three years and they are still there,” he said.
“We want the company to leave our area. No more negotiations between us because Murowa had been continuously spurning our advances for dialogue, and now to hear that the company wants to work with us. They must simply leave our land.”
Mr Musiiwa added the community would rather put up with sustainable irrigation projects in the area Murowa is exploring.
Her said agricultural projects could benefit future generations in perpetuity while diamonds were a finite resource.
“We are for irrigation development in our area using Tugwi-Mukosi water, and we feel that is a far much better route to take than to accommodate a big company that does not respect local people. This land is our heritage from our ancestors.
“We must make sure that when it comes to investment, we have a win-win scenario with those eyeing our resources so that we do not short change our progeny,” Mr Musiiwa charged.
Sese villagers also hinted their patience with the diamond miner has thinned after several run ins.
According to the village head of Zhara in the area, Mr Kizito Zhara, Murowa wasted the goodwill that the Sese folk had for the diamond firm.
“We wanted to peacefully co-exist with these people(Murowa) in the hope they would treat us as equal human beings, but they showed us that we didn’t matter to them so they must now leave our land and, if not, we will continue to resist their presence until they go.”
Danhamombe High and St Simon Zhara Primary schools are located in Mr Zhara’s village. He said it was now hard to rebuild bridges between the estranged parties.
He accused the company of disrupting learning activities at the two flagship learning institutions in the Sese area through drilling activities during exploration.
“It’s disappointing that Murowa only ended up building toilets for their staff involved in exploration after we confronted them over use of surrounding bushes by their workers to relieve themselves.
“These people (Murowa) also damaged our roads with their heavy duty exploration equipment, but never bothered to repair them such that it is currently even a nightmare for farmers to move their grain from the fields and to the market,” said Mr Zhara.
He vowed there would never be peace in the area until Murowa was out of the picture.
The village head alleged that concessions now being made by Murowa to start repairing roads among other pledges, were only cosmetic and aimed at buying more time for the under-fire miner.
Other villagers demanded that Murowa must decamp from Danhamombe High precincts to allow the local community to development an irrigation project to generate revenue for the school.
Part of the land that is earmarked for expanding the institution into a boarding school is currently occupied by the miner’s camp.
Eminent sons and daughters from the area who are scattered across the globe were mobilizing funding to change the face of Danhamombe High by turning it into a boarding school.
According to Mashamhanda village head, Mr Mujaho Mashamhanda, the jury was out for the diamond firm to leave the Sese area owing to a number of ills on its charge sheet.
Mr Mashamhanda said it is difficult to trust Murowa officials.
“We don’t trust them(Murowa) at all. We would rather keep our ancestral land and concentrate on crop farming under irrigation than this talk of diamond mining, which seems to be going on till eternity as their so called exploration remains inconclusive up to now.”
He cautioned that the history and record of investors such as Murowa in other places has shown that the community always ends up being short changed.
“We don’t want our fate to be similar to Tugwi-Mukosi families. . .These investors must respect local communities and closely work with them to create a mutually beneficial relationship not this big brother attitude in the name of investment.”
“Murowa cannot even guarantee to us that they have not been secretly mining diamonds in the name of exploration since they came into our area. They cannot even assure us that there will be equitable sharing of proceeds from this diamond resource if they strike gold.”
Mr Aleck Nhundu, the councillor for ward 20 in Sese, noted that while investment was welcome it is important to get buy in from the local community.
Councillor Nhundu said the war of attrition between Murowa and Sese villagers would continue until there was a firm and concrete commitment from the miner that it is prepared for a win-win situation with the locals and is also prepared to give them an ear.
This came also as calls continued to mount for government to make sure that communities in resource-rich areas accrue benefits from their resources instead of being bystanders while their wealth is looted.
In many other areas countrywide,besides inflicting glaring environmental scars,some of the so-called investors have been accused of doing very little to nothing to plough back in communities despite raking-in millions from natural resources in those places.
A few weeks ago, Sese villagers staged a flash demonstration against Murowa in Mashamhanda village taunting the firm’s officials for failing to peacefully co-exist with locals and demanding they immediately leave their area.
The demonstrators, some of whom brandishing placards, alleged the miner’s work posed an existential threat to the survival of Chamakanda Dam and a dip tank also going by that name.
They said Chamakanda Dam provides water for their livestock and community gardens that are key for their survival dating back to more than a decade ago.
The irate villagers even dug trenches along access roads to block Murowa heavy duty trucks from reaching some of their drilling points in Mashamhanda village.
This incident proved tension continued to rise in Sese as villagers threatened to more hostility.
Government officials led by Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando and Masvingo Minister of State for Provincial Affairs Ezra Chadzamira visited Sese where they ordered formation of a joint committee to spearhead thawing of the frosty relations between the parties.
While villagers insist that any form of future co-existence with Murowa is now completely out of the picture, Chivi district development coordinator, Mr Innocent Matingwina said the parties had smoked a peace pipe.
Mr Matingwina said the joint committee had already held an inaugural meeting, which he said was a resounding success.
“The situation has stabilised now after we held our first meeting of the recommended joint committee that comprises Murowa, Sese community representatives and other stakeholders,” he said.
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“There was progress at the meeting after Murowa agreed to introduce a bursary scheme to assist under-priviledged school children at Danhamombe High and St Simon Zhara Primary schools.”
He also disclosed that Murowa had agreed to avail 5000litres of fuel for road repairs in Sese. The miner also agreed to decamp from Danhamombe High precincts, a key demand of the community.
Murowa pledged to drill six boreholes in the area.
This was also corroborated by RZM Murowa vice president responsible for Human Resources and Administration, Mr Islam Chipango who is also upbeat that a new chapter has been opened in their relations with the Sese folk.
“We have made a commitment to extend some of the community support initiatives that we are doing in Murowa (Zvishavane) to Sese although we are still exploring for diamonds in Chivi. We are not yet making any revenue, but using ours because exploration is not mining,” he said.
Mr Chipango said the exact scale of assistance would be discussed with responsible authorities.
He however, expressed concern that villagers in Sese wanted the diamond miner to leave their area yet the company is trying to bring investment.
“My question for those who want us to leave Sese is how are we going to create the US$12 billion mining industry by 2023 and meet the vision 2030 goal to become an upper middle income economy if we are against investment that will create jobs and grow the economy?”
Mr Chipango confirmed the miner would leave Danhamombe High if they get an alternative place to camp.
He insinuated that Murowa had taken longer that earlier promised, to do its exploration in Sese because the miner was confident of striking diamonds.
However, it remains to be seen how the rest of the Sese turf war will play out with bellicose villagers threatening more action to force Murowa to leave their ancestral land.