Rumors of the discovery of diamond deposits in a small village in Beitbridge have triggered a wave of human traffic to the area.
The stampede began last month after a Harare man, named locally as Rasim Kassim, was granted a prospector’s license to explore for aquamarine – a blue-green variety of the mineral beryl, from the same family as emeralds.
Word soon went round that Kassim was in fact trying to disguise a diamond find, and since then fortune hunters have piled in to the Ponongoma area, near Zezane Mission, to dig for gemstones.
Locals have put up barricades to block access to the area, while deploying a night watchman to stop diggers who are arriving in the area on bicycles, motorbikes and cars – in their number teachers, nurses, bus drivers, goat-herders, schoolchildren and street kids.
A local community leader, Headman Mazibeli, said excavations by both Kassim and the illegal diamond diggers had desecrated an old graveyard.
Tapson Mlaudzi, 83, has lived all his life in the area and says he has never seen anything like it.
“Every night, when a member of the neighborhood watch guarding the site has gone home to sleep, people, including some villagers, go in and dig around,” Mlaudzi said.
“There are usually a number of cars that come here every night. We know there are diamonds here because no-one can go through the effort of digging through all that rock for nothing.”
Malaji Mbedzi, 61, the leader of the local neighborhood watch said: “It’s out of control. I don’t know where these people who bring cars here at night come from. The government should act on this urgently because I also need to sleep.
“I don’t know of anyone who has found diamonds here. If there are any, people from this poor area should be the first to benefit.”
David Alphonse Mpofu, the Provincial Administrator for Matabeleland South, said officials would be visiting the area next week to assess the situation.
“Reports have been made to the police and the district administrator’s office. It clearly needs attention and we will send teams there to try and understand what’s going on,” he said by telephone from Gwanda.
Mbedzi said Kassim was last in the area on Monday this week after turning up with “two white men” whom he introduced as American investors.
He added: “He was angry when he found evidence that someone had tampered with the mine. He said he had already bought machines and would soon be setting up a proper mining venture.”
Officials say although Kassim’s license is for aquamarine, he can convert this to another mineral through a simple administrative procedure.
Source: New Zimbabwe