Friends with Benefits

HIR Issue: 
Crafting the City

Harare, Zimbabwe

At Harare’s Bronte Hotel, an elegant old-style colonial mansion, situated just across the road from the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), two species of people frequent the bar, restaurants, and gardens: chatty development-types from abroad, playing the usual ping-pong with poverty, and government-types, some with ominous countenances, all of them donning the same sleek, dark suits.

Walking to the local Spar early one morning, I spotted a lanky soldier slowly trawling the road alone. He stopped, casting a long glance at the people exiting the hotel—two middle-aged white men and myself. Then he moved on. Suddenly, the wariness that so neatly hems in the behavior, speech, and even thought patterns of everyday Zimbabweans, became less cryptic. One Zimbabwean academic said, “I used to have to walk past a police station every morning. Every morning, many others too, would hear the screams of torture. You learn to shut it out. Or it will be you. There is very little value to the moral currency now.” She went on to explain that it has become second nature to avoid getting involved.

There is one form of currency, however, that has consistently remained invaluable: dollars. The grimy and moist one, two and five dollar bills, circulating the country, sometimes tucked away in inconspicuous locations, is the stuff of life and death. However, dirtier than the money used by the ranks for basic needs is the revenue generated from what has been called the world’s largest diamond find in history, that is, Marange.

Estimated at $800 billion, with an implied 60,000 to 70,000 hectares of resources, Marange has now been approved by the newly elected Kimberley Process (KP) Certification Scheme chair – the US (under Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic). The diamonds are also set to devalue the price of global diamond rough by 50 percent. Since the nascent rise of Zimbabwe’s diamond industry, it has also quickly evidenced a new pipeline partnership between emerging nations, chiefly China, the leading foreign producer through several entities, and India, the world’s primary “rough” factory (handling 11 or 12 global rough diamonds). India is also Zimbabwe’s leading cutting and polishing (C&P) hub, and over 30 percent of diamonds currently treated in Surat, India’s key C&P center, are of Zimbabwean origin.

To date, the volume of diamonds exploited at Marange, which was discovered in 2006, is not known. The value of Marange's reserves was labeled by a survey report from De Beers as more than eight times higher than average diamond fields at a ratio of more than 1000 carats per hundred tonnes (CPHT). The report, prepared for De Beers by noted geologist John Ward, draws Rio Tinto's concession in Zimbabwe's Midland province, estimated at CPHT 120.

Of course, Africa has always been a major producer of rough. Presently, the continent generates over 65 percent of the world’s rough, via South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Namibia and now, Zimbabwe, the world’s seventh largest producer. Until recently, a handful of companies including Russia’s Alrosa (28 percent market share by volume and 25percent by value) and De Beers (26 percent by volume and 35percent by value), produced over 70 percent of global rough production. The United States still remains the world’s largest consumer of finished diamond products, thanks to the deeply entrenched impact of De Beers’s advertising campaign. The campaign equating diamonds with love, was an anthem that began in the 1940s by agency NW Ayers, which created the infamous slogan “Diamonds Are Forever.”