HARARE – Claims by former president Robert Mugabe that the country lost $15 billion worth of diamond revenue were divorced from the actual facts on the ground, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told the National Assembly last week.
Mugabe torched a storm when he claimed in a televised interview ahead of his 93rd birthday last year that the country, which is in the throes of a crippling foreign currency crisis, could not account for $15 billion realised from the sale of the gems.
The revelations angered Zimbabweans who have always been suspicious of the goings on in the controversial Marange diamond fields, with anti-graft watchdogs pushing for an inquiry into the looting of national resources.
But responding to questions raised by in the National Assembly, Chinamasa said Mugabe’s statement was interpreted wrongly.
“I want members, on this issue, to engage their brain. Let us engage our brain. When that figure was mentioned, I think it was explained that it was figurative speech,” said the Finance minister.
When one says something figuratively, he or she will be departing from the literal use of words.
Figurative language uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation.
Chinamasa said an analysis of the world diamond sector debunks the myth that $15 billion worth of diamonds could come from Zimbabwe alone because the entire annual value of the industry is $15 billion and the southern African state is just a speck in terms of production of diamonds.
Zimbabwe is not among the biggest producers of uncut diamonds.
“Allow me to lay this analysis, which sets out who is the key diamond producer and what the annual production per carat and the value is so that we can make our own judgments as to whether or not we are basically saying $15 billion worth of diamonds which did not exist was stolen,” he said.
“I just want us to engage our brains; please it does not matter who said what. Let us engage our brain and see what is true and what is not. Do not misread the former president who was speaking figuratively. I am not saying in any way that there may not have been an abuse.”
The Finance minister said the biggest diamond producers are Russia and Botswana.
In Africa, Botswana has a diamond industry that produces gems worth about $2 billion annually.
“So, how do we, when we are not producing end up saying $15 billion has been stolen? I just want us to understand this, take your time to go through these figures and please let us not switch off our minds when we are considering national issues,” said Chinamasa.
Chinamasa’s remarks come hard on the heels of similar claims by presidential spokesperson George Charamba.
Charamba, who was Mugabe’s spokesperson at the time, is convinced that the media is to blame for failing to comprehend that the former president had used the figure $15 billion as a metaphor to express the magnitude of his anger at the opaque nature of operations at the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
“As a matter of fact, I sat in the briefing and I said to the former president, sir, where did you get the $15 billion figure? His response was that ‘aaa ndakangoitora from the air kuti zvityise’ (I just said out of the blue to stress my point). That’s what he told me and I am prepared to repeat it on record. It was a metaphor to indicate his outrage,” Charamba said.
Mugabe’s administration gave special grants to several companies namely Anjin, Diamond Mining Company, Jinan, Mbada Diamonds, DTZ Ozgeo, Rera, Gye-Nyame, Kusena and Marange Resources to extract diamonds in Marange, also known as Chiadzwa.
The State was represented by the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation and other investment vehicles linked to the security sector, which controlled these companies along with other foreign investors, mostly Chinese.
In February 2015, government moved to consolidate the diamond mining industry and ceased operations for the above companies.
Just recently, the Mines and Energy Portfolio Committee chaired by Norton Member of Parliament Temba Mliswa advised that it would summon Mugabe to explain the missing $15 billion.
Mliswa said Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu, a former Mines minister, and his successor, Walter Chidhakwa, could also be summoned for grilling over the disappearance of the diamond revenue during their tenure.
“There are no sacred cows in terms of the oversight role of Parliament, and there is nothing that even stops us from calling Mugabe, who first mentioned the issue of the $15 billion, from appearing before Parliament and asking him how he came to know about that,” Mliswa said.