From Munyaradzi Huni in Antwerp, Belgium
THERE is no doubt that the City of Antwerp is beautiful.
You don’t find those majestic skyscrapers like in Dubai, but there is something that makes Antwerp unique and different.
And there is also something that quickly reminds you that “the colonial is far from being dead.”
Reports say 84 percent of the world’s mined diamonds end up in Antwerp and the city of actually called the “Centre of World Diamond Trade.” You walk the streets near Antwerp Central and the full picture hits you like a tonne of bricks.
Imposing and intimidating shops that sell diamond products like extremely expensive watches, rings and necklaces make up the majority of the shops.
This is a story that started in 1945, when the Belgium government established the Diamond Office in Antwerp to facilitate the trade in diamonds.
According to reports, Antwerp’s diamond district is a “good example current state of the global diamond industry, with Flemish, Jewish Orthodox and Indian diamond dealers who work alongside manufacturers and service providers, buyers and traders in rough and polished diamonds and processed diamonds from almost all countries where diamonds are mined, processed, sold and bought.
“The city is still home to a small but highly skilled group of diamond cutters who specialise in the processing of the most remarkable diamonds that come on the market.
“But Antwerp is first and foremost a business center, backed by the most sophisticated financial and commercial infrastructure, expertise and experience that are unmatched anywhere else in the world.”
From the perspective of a post-colonial or de-colonial theorist from Africa, the most mind-boggling question here would be “how much of our diamonds are in these shops?”
From the perspective of neo-liberalists from Africa, the view is that “it’s not Antwerp’s fault that most of our diamonds find their way here. Africa should sort out its mess.”
From whatever perspective, Antwerp is a practical lesson in coloniality. And as is always the case when one talks about coloniality, the issue about who is to blame comes up and in no time emotions get high.
For this reason, let me shelve this emotional story for another day.
Antwerp remains a beautiful city and the Zimbabwean delegation to the Kimberly Process Intersessional Meeting that ended last Friday got a taste of why this city grabs anything and everything to do with diamonds.
Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Mr Winston Chitando, who was the head of the delegation; chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company, Dr Moris Mpofu and Ms Dorothy Makoni from the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe had hectic schedules meeting potential investors and buyers.
It was clear that the world diamond community can’t wait for a taste of the Zimbabwean diamond and already, the country has scored high marks with regards to the management of its diamonds.
Minister Chitando explained: “The highlights of the KP meeting was the acknowledgment by the KP chair of the good interface between the Government of Zimbabwe, ZCDC and the Community.
“As Zimbabwe, we would like to be a compliant and active member of the KP process. It was pleasing to note the respect which Zimbabwe has managed to establish within the KP community.
“Zimbabwe is now fully integrated into KP diamond community. We expect high level visits in the next six months by a number of key players in the world diamond community.”
What was even more pleasing to note was that for once, members of the civil society toned down their attacks against the Government with regards to diamonds from Marange.
Minister Chitando took notice and commented: “It’s true that members of civic society have toned down their rhetoric. I attribute this to the proactive role Government has taken in liaison with the communities and making sure that they start benefiting from mining operations. His Excellency, the President, has been very clear on the need for communities to benefit from mining operations.”
In this spirit, President Mnangagwa last week handed over $5 million to the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust for the revitalisation of the Trust. The cheque from ZCDC brought lots of relief and smiles to the community.
Speaking on the sidelines of the KP meeting here, the co-ordinator of the Civil Society Coalition, Mr Shamiso Mtisi acknowledged that Zimbabwe was opening a new chapter with regards to managing its diamonds.
“We have seen that there has been some progress from Zimbabwe in terms of setting up that tripartite diamond security conference. We raised this issue in the KP meeting in our opening statement.
“We are happy that Zimbabwe has gone further and has agreed to host a KP visit but because of elections, that can only be next year. Zimbabwe will invite a KP visit next year for the KP to assess the situation on the ground in Marange, which is good for purposes of enhancing openness and to ensure that the country continues to comply with KP minimum requirements,” said Mr Mtisi.
He added that the new approach by the Zimbabwean Government should be emulated in other diamond producing countries as it has the potential to benefit all diamond stakeholders.
“The Zimbabwean Government took the right step by inviting civil society to the diamond security conference on the 1st of June because it afforded civil society, communities and industry to come together and discuss some of the key concerns.
“Communities were given an opportunity to air their views, civil society also aired their views. ZCDC indicated that they are ready to look at the recommendations.
We are moving towards finding each other.
“We are getting there but it’s not easy. As civil society, we are ready to engage with Government and we understand the Zimbabwean Government is also ready to engage with us. We have plans to have meetings with the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development,” said Mr Mtisi.
In her opening speech, European Chair of the KP 2018, Ms Hilde Hardeman spoke glowingly about the diamond security indaba that was recently organised by the ZCDC, a clear indication that Zimbabwe has really managed to impress the Kimberly Process.
Before the KP meeting, one of the civil society activists, Farai Maguwu, clearly showed that he is still living in the past by writing a letter to the KP chair alleging serious human rights in Marange.
Fortunately, Ms Hildeman saw reason and she softly told Maguwu to go hang. Resultantly, Maguwu had his tail between the legs throughout the KP meeting.
Clearly, Zimbabwe is opening a new chapter with regards to managing its diamonds and Minister Chitando is optimistic of an increase in diamond production.
“The strategy of ZCDC is to increase production from under 2 million carats last year to over 10 million carats by 2023. Other strategic issues will be outlined when the diamond policy is announced by His Excellency, President Mnangagwa in due course,” said Minister Chitando.
While the world diamond community can’t wait for Zimbabwean diamonds, Zimbabweans can’t wait for the diamond policy.
Just a piece of Antwerp in Harare would make “coloniality less painful.”