Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | November 15, 2011

Boycott the Marange Diamond Field

“Africa has many problems,” he told me, “but forgetting is not one of them.”

During the second to last week I worked in Zimbabwe the price of bread tripled overnight.  There were strikes and riots in the cities.  Mugabe was condemned by the West.  The West was condemned by Mugabe.  In the bush, the earth cracked in the dry air as the sun continued to beam down, day after rainless day. 

The Baobab trees were unmoved.

– From “Africa“, Originally Published in Handprints on the Womb

In 1998, when I went to Zimbabwe to teach in a women’s literacy program in a rural part of the eastern highlands, near the Mozambique border, the famous decline of Mugabe’s regime was only beginning. For those in the know, Mugabe had been a corrupt and vicious dictator for many years. But Zimbabwe had been considered an African success story by many in the West, a multi-ethnic, relatively prosperous, quasi-democracy. In no small part, this perception was fed by the continued presence and prosperity of White farmers.  In 1998, this all began to change.

When the currency began to collapse, so too did the facade that hid the corruption of the Mugabe regime.  The people could no longer afford bread. As inflation skyrocketed, the economy reached the point of near-total collapse.  Mugabe’s response was to scapegoat the White farmers in the name of land redistribution. Land reform, of course, was necessary. But Mugabe’s regime had no interest in true land reform. They’d have done it years before if they had. Instead, once-productive farms were given to ZANU-PF cronies and land lay fallow. A nation that had once been an exporter of grain now could no longer feed its people.

Moreover, Mugabe intensified political repression. Recent elections have seen shocking violence. This violence has continued to be an integral part of the recently discovered Marange Diamond Field, only miles from where I lived in Zimbabwe.  I would have passed right by it on my way to camp and hike in beautiful Chimanimani Park, where I slept in a guava orchard. But the mines are a million miles from that idyllic scene. Beatings, rapes, and murder have been a regular occurrence. And just as significantly, the profits from Marange diamonds are going straight into the hands of ZANU-PF officials, funding their lavish lifestyles while their countrymen starve; funding the violence and repression of opposition activists. Only days ago, Mugabe supporters attacked an opposition rally.

In the years since I left Zimbabwe, I have lost touch with my former teaching partner, Maxwell Mponda. Maxwell is the one speaking in the quote–“Africa has many problems…”–from the excerpt at the beginning of this article. This was a rural area; the only way to contact him had been through post, which was brought by bus to the local shop. In time, his letters stopped and mine were returned by the post office.  I have no idea what has become of him. Perhaps it is merely the product of a nation whose infrastructure, including the postal service, has collapsed. Perhaps something worse. He was a man of integrity and intellect, qualities that put one in peril in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Recently, a Zimbabwean friend invited me to a gathering to honor Farai Maguwu. Mr Maguwu, who recently recieved the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for his work documenting what is happening at the Marange Diamond Field, has been imprisoned and harassed repeatedly for his efforts.

So what can one do? Zimbabwe may have diamonds, but it does not have oil; NATO is unlikely to intervene as they did in Libya. But while the United States certainly did not cause this problem, our willingness to trade in Mugabe’s diamonds fuels his bloody regime. The fact that they are not designated “conflict diamonds”–because they are not contributing to an actual war–simply shows how ineffectual even well-meaning policies can be. But the American officials who allow this trade to continue should be held accountable.

Perhaps most important, however, is to remember that we are part of an interconnected planet and our decisions have a deep effect on the world. For all the narcissism and individualism of American culture, it truly underestimates the power of the individual. The truth is that when we buy a diamond with an “M” for Marange, we are putting guns in the hands of Mugabe, a mass murderer.  How many Zimbabweans are we willing to sacrifice for that diamond ring? How many rapes are we willing to tolerate for our Christmas shopping? How ironic that we would celebrate the birth of a poor child in a stable by buying diamonds that fuel both our own greed and Zimbabwe’s suffering.

Moreover, it is important for those of us with a voice to speak to these issues rather than to allow the mainstream media to always define the narrative. Why, other than the presence of oil, should we be more concerned with Gaddafi’s regime than Mugabe’s? Where is the outcry from America’s poets and intellectuals? I recently saw Jay-Z in near-tears and calling for a boycott when he heard that Crystal didn’t make their product for Black people. I have not yet heard similar rage, or the desire either to stop buying–much less boycott–the Marange, or any other, blood diamonds. Indeed, the song he did with Kanye West on the subject was famously lacking in conviction.

Finally, I’d suggest that we all think a bit about how we spend our money, especially as the Christmastime frenzy approaches. If there is any criticism one can make of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, it is that perhaps they are less aware of the relationship between the injustices between the West–which includes pretty much everyone in the United States–and the Global South. Perhaps this movement is evolving toward that. In the meantime, if there is anything to take away from the Occupy Wall Street Movement, it is that we can begin to live our lives more richly, more simply, right now, and the world will benefit.

Rather than the gift of a diamond, we can, perhaps, give the gift of the story of a nation that is suffering. Even if we are not responsible for its plight, we are responsible not to forget Zimbabwe. Remembrance, after all, is one thing I learned in Africa.


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