This week, Russian diamond miner Alrosa announced that it had signed a joint venture agreement to explore for diamonds in the Chimanimani area of Zimbabwe.
The announcement was accompanied by an Alrosa slide presentationtouting the benefits the world’s biggest miner by volume hopes to bring to the country’s troubled gem industry.
“In 2009, [the] Kimberley Process banned trade of [Marange] diamonds,” it noted. “The ban was lifted in 2011. But Zimbabwe diamonds’ reputation was ruined. Market players traded them reluctantly and with a significant discount.”
In addition to its reputational issues, Zimbabwe’s industry suffers from a lack of technical know-how on everything from excavation to sorting, it adds.
But Alrosa, the presentation says, can provide “an answer to all these questions.” By sharing its industry and technology expertise, as well as know-how in corporate social responsibility and transparent governance, Alrosa can “drive development” in the sector.
One local newspaperhailed this as a hopeful sign: “That a world class company like Alrosa has signed an agreement to be involved in the local market is a ringing endorsement of the world class nature of the local diamond potential and the industry to emerge out of it.”
Yet, at least one Zimbabwe rehab project seems too daunting for Alrosa. It has stressed it would not mine in the Marange region, which houses the country’s largest diamond deposits, producing up to 3.5 million carats a year.
Marange is also where, in 2008, a nasty outburst of violence against artisanal diggers led to an estimated 250 deaths and sparked that two-year Kimberley Process (KP) ban that came closeto rippingthe certificationscheme apart. And while the international spotlight has long since left the area, violence against miners persists, according to the Centre for Natural Resource Governance(CNRG), a local nongovernmental group.
So when The Herald, Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper, declared that Alrosa would be mining in Marange, CNRG fretted over the announcement’s lack of transparency.
“Alrosa’s entry into Marange is shrouded in secrecy and this has been the same script that the Zimbabwe Government has used to identify investors for Marange diamonds,” it said in a statement, titled “Alrosa enters Zimbabwe’s Marange killing fields.”
Alrosa, ever sensitive about its image, responded quickly, declaring that it “has never and under no circumstances considered and won’t consider the possibility of entering the Marange region.”