TWO South African companies partnering a state-owned Zimbabwean mining firm in a controversial diamond mining venture in eastern Zimbabwe have been ordered to stop operations by the country's environmental protection authorities.
The state-run Sunday Mail said yesterday that Mbada Diamond Mining and Canadile Miners have been told to halt work after it was discovered they were exploiting the Marange diamond field without having had a mandatory environmental impact assessment.
The fields have become the focus of international condemnation after Zimbabwean police last year carried out a brutal eviction of thousands of illegal diggers and panners.
Geologists say the field has emerged to be the richest diamond area in the world.
The Kimberley Process, the United Nations-founded body meant to stop the trade in blood diamonds fuelling violent conflict, reported in October that soldiers had murdered and tortured diggers and that smuggling at Marange was rampant.
The government illegally seized the field from a British-based company, African Consolidated Resources (ACR), in 2006 and in recent months have turned the claim over to Mbada, a joint venture between South African-based scrap metal dealer New Reclamation and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, which is also in partnership with a little known South Africa group, Core Mining, to form Canadile Miners.
The companies have been mining the area since September in violation of a court order that the claim belongs to ACR, which is seeking an eviction order from the courts against Mbada and Canadile.
The government has said it wants to move the several hundred villagers living on the fields.
Last week the residents drove away a bulldozer sent by Mbada to destroy their homes, reports said.
They refused to move to another site provided by the government, and said they wanted a share in the diamonds at Marange.
Mining experts said the environmental obstacle could stop the two companies' operations for months, with considerable loss of income to both.
Mbada is processing 10 tonnes of diamond-bearing alluvial soil an hour, but plans to bring in machinery to increase the volume to 150 tonnes an hour that would produce about R33million of diamonds a day. - Sapa-dpa