REVEALED: Hidden reason why government wants to remove Chilonga villagers from their ancestral land

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VILLAGERS in the Lowveld area of Chilonga – 35 kilometres south of Chiredzi town – facing eviction to pave way for a dairy project by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Dendairy associates say the hidden reason for the plot to remove them from their ancestral lands is precious minerals in the place – mainly gold and diamonds.

The NewsHawks visited the area which has now became a source of tension, bitterness and outrage since the government recently moved to position itself to displace 12 500 people purportedly for a lucerne grass project.

Villagers said they do not believe the story and narrative of lucerne grass; they think that is a cover for still secret mining activities by Mnangagwa’s cronies.

A survey by leading South African diamond mining giant De Beers in the 1950s as well as an aeromagnetic exploration conducted by local firm Aero Surv Zimbabwe, in partnership with South African firm Xcalibur Airborne Geophysics, between 2019 and 2020 revealed vast deposits of kimberlite diamonds and gold in the Chilonga area.

This comes as The NewsHawks has established that First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has also moved into the area, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, presumably to turn Chambuta Refugee Camp into an orphanage.

Renovations are ongoing and the orphanage will be named after her. This has echoes of former first lady Grace Mugabe taking over Iron Mask Farm in Mazowe under the guise of an orphanage.

Auxillia’s orphanage is in the area which is going to be affected by the grass project, raising eyebrows among locals who are now questioning the real motive behind their threatened removal.

“We are watching the issue closely, but we can tell you that this grass project is just a cover so that these guys, through their proxy Dendairy in this case, can extract minerals in this area. While Dendairy will be producing grass, they will be mining. We have to ask ourselves why they have come all the way from the Midlands, leaving other provinces where there is a lot empty land, to establish the grass project here; an area they hardly care about,” said a village head from Makhosiya area speaking on condition of anonymity.

“More curiously, what is the connection between the grass project by the President’s associates and the orphanage by his wife here? We are not against investment and development, but we are worried about their real intentions and our fate. We were never consulted or given any details about these things. We know there are minerals in this area first detected during the colonial era, in 1956, and there are various pegs which point to that.”

A Mines ministry official with knowledge of the area said De Beers had explored the
area.

“The maps depict areas with deposits of coal, diamonds, scheelite and quartz in Chiredzi. The stretch runs from Save in Chiredzi North where copper mines like Cobra Mine, which are now closed, once operated from. The other area covers coal mining in Chisambiji which again is in Chiredzi North constituency.

“The belt stretches from Save to Chipinda, which is in Gonarezhou, down to Masivamele and Makhosiya on the banks of the Runde River. This is the area which Dendairy has been
allocated,” the official said.

The government recently published Statutory Instrument (SI) 50 of 2021 which will see more than 12 000 people being moved from their homes ostensibly to pave way for Dendairy’s lucerne grass production project.

The SI has since been amended to alter the official objective from “lucerne grass production” to “establishment of an irrigation scheme”, although the authorities are still determined to enforce eviction.

Dendairy is a Kwekwe-based dairy concern, formed in 2004, owned by the Coetzee family, with Scandinavian private equity firm Spear Capital holding a minority stake. Spear bought 27% of Dendairy in 2015.

Darren Coetzee, the head of Dendairy, is a close Mnangagwa business ally from Kwekwe where the dairy company is headquartered.

During a memorial service for Stelle Theresa Coetzee in 2016, Mnangagwa publicly said that he had saved the family’s farm and businesses from invasions and seizure during the chaotic and violent land reform.

The Coetzee farm was invaded many times, but each time the invaders, comprising mainly war veterans and Zanu PF activists, moved in they would be removed by the police. In 2019, the ministry of Mines and Mining Development, through the local firm Aero Surv in partnership with Xcalibur Airborne Geophysics, conducted an aeromagnetic survey which discovered vast deposits of diamonds and gold in Chiredzi and Mwenezi areas.

The survey was launched by Mines and Minerals Development minister Winston Chitando at Buffalo Range Airport on 25 March 2019.

Speaking during the launch, an upbeat Chitando said the survey was part of plans to develop a US$12 billion mining industry by 2023 in order to boost economic recovery.

“In terms of the development of the diamond industry last year we produced 2.8 million carats and the whole idea is for this to go up to at least 10 million carats by the year 2023 I said at least (10 million) because that projection is based on geologically proven sites and, with the exploration which is now taking place, who knows what can happen?” he said.

“This event is important in the sense that exploration activities of this nature would enable us to improve our diamond production beyond the 10 million carats.”

The diamond kimberlite pipe in the Lowveld extends from Chiredzi down to Beitbridge – the Malipati zone.

The belt further extends to Maitengwe area in Bulilima district, also in Matabeleland South.

The world’s largest diamond producer, Alrosa, has begun preliminary exploration at Bubi in Beitbridge East where it has discovered diamonds.

Down in Beitbridge West there was River Ranch Diamond Mine, not far across the Limpopo River border from South Africa’s Venetia Diamond Mine, the country’s largest diamond operation.

Alrosa Zimbabwe Limited, jointly owned by Alrosa and Zimbabwe’s state-owned diamond mining company, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), are working on the project.

Alrosa, which accounts for almost a third of the world’s rough diamond production, has 70% in Alrosa Zim, with 30% owned by ZCDC.

Chilonga community leaders and locals told The NewsHawks on Wednesday that their area is only being targeted due to vast mineral deposits.

They also said there are other minerals in the area like copper, scheelite and coal, which extend to Mwenezi where another associate of the ruling elites, Billy Rautenbach, was allocated land to establish his ethanol business through his Green Fuel company which is based in Chisumbanje.

Announcing the results of the diamond survey in June last year, Minister of State for Masvingo Ezra Chadzamira said huge diamond deposits were discovered around the Chingwizi area in Mwenezi, while gold was found in northern Chikombedzi following the aeromagnetic survey commissioned by the government.

“Huge diamond deposits were discovered around the Chingwizi area in Mwenezi, while gold was found in northern Chikombedzi following an aeromagnetic survey commissioned by the government,” Chadzamira said.

“The ministry of Mines will outline the next course of action after this discovery, but we are excited as a province because this will help grow our provincial Gross Domestic Product and also help the nation achieve its target to make mining a US$12 billion industry by 2023.”

A government official based in Masvingo told The NewsHawks that the grass project has divided government and ruling party officials in the province.

The official said the First Lady began showing interest in Chiredzi East after the 2019 survey which discovered minerals in the area.

He said if the government was sincere, it would have given to Dendairy Central Estate in the Midlands, which is underutilised.

“Why Chilonga? I am sure you are aware of a survey which was launched by Chitando in 2019. The survey established minerals in Chiredzi East and South. We are aware that their intention is minerals, not this grass project. The issue has divided government and ruling party officials within this province. The minerals extend from Save Valley via Malilangwe and Chiredzi East to Mwenezi. Remember, Coal Zimbabwe is mining coal at 40km along the Chiredzi-Chisumbanje road,” said the official.

In June 2016, this reporter was part of a team which accompanied five businessmen from South Africa claiming to be directors of Cotton South Africa Company who secretly toured the same area being targeted by Dendairy, saying they wanted to establish a cotton and maize irrigation project.

However, the late former president Robert Mugabe rejected the project, saying the Shangaan people could not be removed from their ancestral land for an investment which would only benefit a few people.

— NewsHawks


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